An exhibition featuring the work of Israeli sculptor and artist Orna Ben-Ami opened at UN Headquarters on Tuesday night. The exhibition, which will be on display at the Delegates Entrance until March 10, is titled “Entire Life in a Package”. It’s intended to draw attention to the refugee crisis and features works of welded iron superimposed over Reuter’s photographs of refugees.
“I sculpt the iron by welding, I don’t cast it,” explains Ben-Ami. She started combining photos with iron two years ago by fading out people in family photos, leaving only their objects. “People take things with him when they have to leave,” she says, “as they disappear, the objects are becoming more and more important.” Ben-Ami sifted through over 73,000 Reuter’s images before selecting the ones used in the exhibit.
The opening, which was co-hosted by The Israeli Mission to the UN and The Israel Project, was attended by diplomats and senior UN officials. Pawel Radomski, Poland’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, said the exhibit was a timely one. “The theme of the exhibit is one of the central issues that the United Nations is dealing with,” said Radomski, “and I wanted to seek out the artist behind it.”
Although he says his country hasn’t felt the brunt of the refugee problem, Radomski says the issue is a global one. He paused beside one of Ben-Ami’s larger works, an iron silhouette of a large cloud of refugees standing beside a body of water, with the original photograph serving as their reflection and remarked, “this one, it’s incredible.”
Allan Myer, Chairman of The Israel Project which co-sponsored Tuesday’s opening, was struck by the piece. It’s heart wrenching,” said Myer, who noted that his parents were also refugees, “all humanity is lost. The world no longer perceives them as individuals, only was a big faceless grey mass. This work really brings that home.”
Israel’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Danny Danon, addressed the guests and spoke of his own family’s odyssey from Spain to Morocco to Egypt and finally to Israel, where they lived at first in a tent in Kfar Sava. “We have been refugees almost as long as we’ve been a people,” said Danon, “but today we have a homeland.” Danon noted how modern Israel is a mixture of old and new, east and west, where matzo balls and falafel balls can be found in the same restaurant. “Nothing makes us prouder than the fact that the Israeli Mission to the UN is hosting this exhibit,” concluded Danon.
When asked what it’s like to be one of the world’s few female welder artists Ben-Ami, whose parents were refugees from Poland and Russia, laughs and says, “Feminity is stronger than the iron.” She recalls that Israel’s late President Shimon Peres had once written, “Orna, you prove that there is nothing softer than iron and nothing stronger than a woman.”
Ben-Ami thanks everyone who helped make the exhibit possible, then thanked Danon and his staff for “opening this very special home for the homeless.”