Art. It's a small word, only three letters, but powerful in the gradations it lends to our histories, cultures and languages.
Most people imagine art as a visual tool that tells our stories, preserves our memories, captures our visions and illustrates our connection to those around us.
For Israeli-born artist Netta Ben-Attar, however, there is no way to distinguish between visual art and the art of words. To her, they are one and the same. And there is no one more accomplished in weaving together that which we see with the words we can't often find to help us describe our experiences.
In conjunction with her exhibition, "In the Language of Exile," the Taos Center for the Arts will host an artist's talk with Ben-Attar Thursday (June 21), from 4-6 p.m., in the Encore Gallery at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. The occasion is designed to give everyone an opportunity to enjoy the company of this compelling artist whose message is one of hope.
"Language gives us the chance to reflect on our history and realize that over thousands of years, there's nothing new under the sun," she said. "And through language we can all connect and understand that." It's the message that permeates her mixed media pieces on view through July 2 at the Encore Gallery.
"In the Language of Exile" is "an aesthetically profound exhibition that encourages conversations around exile and the longing for home," according to the press release from Taos Center for the Arts.
"It's a universal emotion," Ben-Attar said, going on to note that, historically, we or our ancestors have likely been subjected to exile and that longing.
Noting that the talk is "apropos to current world circumstances," Deborah McLean, Taos Center for the Arts executive director said further, "Netta's talk will be engaging and intriguing. It will take you through time. It will open the juncture between art and storytelling. It will discuss the use of materials and compositions to tell stories of exile. It will raise questions, and leave you with questions."
Ben-Attar sees it in much simpler terms.
"Yes, I'm an Israeli-American and have in me the imprint of exile, but we all contain the consequence of layers of stories, and it's there we find our common ground."
The exhibit is an exquisite tribute to the symbolic history of Jerusalem, a city that has been subjected to tumultuous and profound upheaval over the millennia. Her work, reflecting that, is spare yet complex. The sculptural tapestry of each piece is replete with prayers and faith, subtly woven with words throughout. And the experience of listening to the artist explain the multiple facets of her process is as powerful as standing before her creations.
The story begins with the installation itself, which Ben-Attar arranged as a statement of placing oneself in the direction of home.
The centerpiece "Jerusalem" hangs on the western wall of the gallery, the position of which acknowledges the significance to Israelis of the Western, or Wailing, Wall. "The Western Wall is all that remains of the second temple of Jerusalem, following the conquest of the city by the Romans in 70 A.D.," Ben-Attar explained.
The panels of klaf (a specific parchment sacred to ancient religious Hebrew traditions) of which the piece is composed are bound together with gold thread, a nod to Jerusalem's nickname as the "Gold City." Some contain digital imagery but are mixed with unprinted panels that blend into the digital print of the Wailing Wall and become part of that sacred structure. Hebrew words of prayer are intertwined among them.
""If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning. If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy."
Surrounding this masterful piece, itself framed in Israeli olive tree wood, are compositions of 13 mixed media boats, mounted on various types of wood: some antique, and all with a special tie to her storytelling. The pieces containing the boats are hung to face towards their journey to the Holy City, a representation of returning to one's self.
"I selected boats as a means to honor the desire of people to journey back to their roots," Ben-Attar said.
In "Dawn of Taos" -- a departure from her theme of homecoming but not from her spirituality -- Ben-Attar chose to dye the strands of klaf in tones that mimic the rosy hues of daylight's initial appearance. Inscribed with the words of a Hebrew morning prayer, she said, "We believe that, at night, your soul leaves your body to do its work in rejuvenating and elevating itself. When you awaken, your soul has been returned to you, hopefully in a better place, which is what we give blessings for.
"Of course, Jerusalem is my story, but I think the exhibition speaks to anyone whose history includes the imposition of leaving home, of perhaps leaving with nothing to your name, of wondering where your feet will land," Ben-Attar said.
"But through our choice of words, and the work we need to do, we can evolve into a higher consciousness. That is where my hope lies."
Encore Gallery at the Taos Community Auditorium is located at 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte, and may be reached at (575) 758-2052, or by visiting tcataos.org. For further information on the artist, please go to nettabenattar.com.