TEL AVIV-JAFFA — Israeli artist Dani Karavan, known for his site-specific sculptures in Israel and Europe, requested on Wednesday that the relief on the wall of the Knesset Plenum Hall that he completed in 1966 be taken down in light of the Israeli government’s conduct.
Speaking on a panel entitled “The Power of Political Art” at the annual Herzliya Conference on Israeli national policy, Karavan said, “The wall in the Knesset, sometimes I am ashamed that I did it. I have asked many times that they move it or cover it up with a rug until the Knesset embodies the spirit of the country’s Declaration of Independence,” Haaretz reported.
Karavan, who is an Israel Prize recipient and who just last week received a Catalan award (Pablo Picasso was also a recipient) for his work “Passages — Homage to Walter Benjamin” (1990–94) — which memorializes Walter Benjamin in the location where he committed suicide — was referring to decisions by Israel’s Culture Minister, Miri Regev, to penalize artists who refuse to perform in the occupied West Bank.
Regev, who is a member of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party, launched new funding criteria recently that would cut 33% of funds to cultural institutions who refuse to perform in West Bank settlements (as well as in the peripheral areas of the Negev and Galilee), while adding an extra 10% to those who do perform in the settlements.
Karavan said that such threats couldn’t be understood as anything but a “dictatorship.”
Karavan’s work in the Knesset Plenum Hall, entitled “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem,” was installed in 1966. It is comprised of Galilee stones that were chiseled by local stonemasons. It is probably the most photographed piece of art in Israel, since it serves as the backdrop for every single speaker who goes up to the Knesset’s dais to speak.
Karavan was born in pre-state Palestine in 1930. He has created wall reliefs in many court buildings throughout Israel, as well as memorials in Israel and Europe. His best-known works include a Holocaust memorial at the Weizmann Institute of Science, the “Way of Human Rights” in the Germanishches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, and a memorial to the Sinti and Roma victims of National Socialism.
It is unclear whether anyone in the Knesset will take Karavan’s request to remove his artwork seriously, or how they would go about it, considering it is literally engraved into the wall; the wall of a building that has for half a century been the political home of successive Israeli governments who have overseen the military occupation of Palestinian territories where Karavan and other artists are now expected to perform — but only for Jews.