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The Wadi Salib neighborhood in the Lower City section of Haifa emerged gradually in the late nineteenth century, and was inhabited by Arabs and Jews of the pre-Zionist period. In 1948, during Israel’s War of Independence, many of the neighborhood’s houses were destroyed, and its Arab residents expelled. In the early days after independence, titles to the houses were handed over, in accordance with the Absentee Property Law, to Israel’s Development Authority, the Israel Lands Administration, and the Amidar public housing corporation, and used to house mainly Holocaust survivors and Jewish immigrants from North Africa and other Arab countries. The name of this run-down neighborhood is etched in the Israeli consciousness primarily by the Wadi Salib riots of 1959, involving demonstrations and violent clashes with the police – the first social uprising against the ruling Mapai party establishment over ethnic discrimination and deprivation. In the 1970s, the entire neighborhood was cleared, and the buildings were boarded and bricked up against squatters. Today, it is undergoing gentrification, and real estate development plans are being drawn up, with the aim of turning the slums into sought-after properties.

The work What Am I Missing was inspired by repeated roaming about the neighborhood, and is composed of materials found at construction sites – such as sand, plaster, and aluminum. In these materials, Shiran Yitzhari reads the tension between objects and the history or personal stories imbued in them. The long mural work, covered with a layer of gray plaster, is engraved schematic ornamentations inspired by façades of buildings in the neighborhood. They are also evocative of brutalist concrete reliefs of the sort that adorned many public buildings (such as libraries, community halls, and kibbutz dining halls) in the first decades after independence. At its foot lies a bulk bag full of sand, and inside it is a scale model of a typical apartment block stairway. Scattered around the space are also long, curved sticks, covered in red and white stripes – like misshapen scale bars used in documenting archeological finds.

In her work, Yitzhari – whose background is in sculpture and photography – presents a structural and formal abstraction of urban landscapes. Inspired by archaeology, she samples the architectural forms of her hometown, Haifa, transposes them from their concrete context, and in the process examines historical and cultural processes that have a bearing upon a personal and national identity. In this regard, the Wadi Salib neighborhood is an example of an agonizing intermediate state, with buildings that have not yet been rehabilitated – due to procedural delays, or insufficient budgets – standing neglected for years. Yitzhari presents a condensed landscape model at a distorted scale that obscures the tangible representation of the elements, flitting between stage-set and reality, cloaked in ephemerality and foreignness.

Yitzhari applies photographic principles to her sculptural work, which stands at the cusp between positive and negative, and between two-dimensional and three-dimensional. The end product is a kind of flattened model, a Minimalist-Brutalist heritage site of a haunting ghost town, composed entirely of remnants of reality on the verge of disappearing. The notion of home is thus endowed with a dual meaning: a symbol of belonging and rootedness that is also a site of cultural and political conflict.

Hadassa Cohen

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