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Jerusalem Picture No. 1 is one of a series of paintings in which Reeb presents two apparently unrelated images, taken from photographs, one referring to culture and to tourism, the other to the conflict from which the tourist is excluded. The upper image is a painted rendering of a photograph, taken by Reeb himself, of old Jerusalem with the Dome of the Rock in the background (built around 687-691 AD, it is one of the holiest Muslim shrines, said to mark the spot from where the Prophet Mohammed made his Miraj, or 'night journey' to the heavens and back to Mecca, Quran 17:1) and a skyline of ancient buildings atop which rise the ubiquitous television aerial. The image beneath depicts a photograph taken by the Israeli photojournalist Miki Kratsman (who works for the newspaper Ha'aretz) of Israeli tanks rolling through the streets of another town and past a crowd of people going about their daily lives.
Between the two images is a design reminiscent of a barbed-wire fence. The concept of fence or border is particularly emotive in Israel. The Israelis erect fences to protect their borders but within the territories they occupy they are keen for there to be no borders, for a border suggests that the other side has autonomy. The Palestinians, on the other hand, demand a border so that they can proclaim their independence. Reeb has depicted fences and borders in many of his paintings, often using the outline of the State of Israel prior to the 'Six-Day War' of 1967 (when Israel annexed the Sinai Desert, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank of the Jordan and the Golan Heights from neighbouring Arab countries). Their significance is in part determined by the alliances and allegiances of the viewer. As in much of Reeb's work, synchronicity is an issue in the painting; the simultaneity of tourism and war and of military and civilian life. But a further issue is the way in which the television-viewing public has become as inured to such images of war as the people who experience them in their daily lives. The vision of tanks rolling through the streets ultimately is as unthreatening as the tourist snap of Jerusalem, and the 'democratic' way in which Reeb depicts both images is further confirmation of the matter-of-factness of both views.
The subject matter of Reeb's work always has a political connection, normally to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Israeli occupation of Arab territory. He works from photographs, frequently taken by another photographer, usually Miki Kratsman. Reeb, who sees himself as a dispassionate observer of an irresolvable conflict, paints in the isolation of his studio in Tel Aviv with music blaring in the background. Thus the conditions under which he works are entirely dissimilar to the conditions under which the photographer works, which are generally dangerous and to the accompaniment of gunfire. The photographs are projected onto canvas in a darkened room and Reeb, interposing himself between projector and canvas, inevitably blocks the part of the image he is painting. Thus he must work from memory within the context of the prompts given by the surviving parts of the projection. Memory plays an important role in his work for the memory of the conflict between Arab and Israeli subsumes memories of the holocaust and of the State of Israel's own subsequent quest for recognition as an independent state. Thus Reeb's paintings work on a number of different levels and often with a sense of detached irony which comes from his own ambivalence towards the aims of the State of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians as well as from his rather deadpan use of photographs of emotive subjects.
Let's Have Another War: David Reeb, M Publishers, Tel Aviv 1997
David Reeb: Recent Paintings and Photographs, exhibition catalogue, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin 1999
Jeremy Lewison and Giorgia Bottinelli