While during the week the streets of the Machane Yehuda market are packed with shoppers and sellers by day and restaurants and bars by night, on Saturdays the place is empty and silent with the shutters on all the shops pulled down and locked.
It is this that gave Solomon Souza the idea of creating an art gallery in the deserted market. He has painted a series of large murals of famous people on the closed shutters and as a result they can only be seen when the market is closed.
For example, below the sign for a fishmonger is a painting of the Jewish World War II hero Hannah Szenes wearing her military uniform. The American rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel can be seen at the entrance to a spice stall. The Indian independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi can be seen underneath a “Strictly Kosher” sign.
Souza started work on the murals in January 2015 after his friend Berel Hahn was inspired by the film about the street artist Banksy “Exit Through the Gift Shop” and the work of the graffiti artist David Cheo. Hahn had a vision of creating an area full of colour, even when the market was closed.
Hahn became the organiser behind the project while Souza did the painting. Souza’s maternal grandfather was Francis Newton Souza, a founding member of the Progressive Artists’ Group in Bombay and a leading member of the Indian avant-garde.
Speaking about his art Souza described himself as a “lone artist” saying that he’s “never been part of a collective of the graffiti scene.”
The two have taken a grassroots approach to their project and gone at it alone without looking for support from businesses, foundations or the Jerusalem Municipality. According to Hahn the “red tape involved would take the fun, freedom and spontaneity out of it”.
The long term goal is to paint all 360 of the market’s shutters and then they would like to give regular Saturday art tours through the market. They are also planning a smartphone app that would provide information on the paintings. To date they have painted over 140 of the shutters.
Luckily for Souza so far it hasn’t been difficult to get the permission of the shopkeepers to paint their shutters. Some have asked him to paint a favourite rabbi or family patriarch who was the original owner of the stall. Thanks to this their idea has been spreading by word of mouth and more and more market vendors are approaching them to have their stalls painted.
However, there is still a considerable amount of work ahead. Souza still has over 200 shutters to paint. If things go well he can paint one in around an hour to an hour and a half. This means that on a good night he can finish four of them.
As a result it is likely to be a little while before the project is complete. But while spending your gap year in Israel it is definitely worth a trip to the market one Saturday afternoon to have a walk round the abandoned streets and admire the progress already made in this incredible project.