It is not surprising that the Muslala group, a non-profit organisation connecting art with social emerged 2009 in Musrara, a neighbourhood which has been full of controversies throughout history:
An aristocratic Arabic neighborhood until the fightings in 1948, in the 1950’s populated with immigrants from North Africa and Iraq, considered as a dangerous quarter for its proximity to the border and becoming a kind of slum. Then in the 1970’s the birth place of the Israeli Black Panthers mouvement, protesting against unequality between Ashkenzai and Mizrahi Jews. With artists and art places moving there (like schools and galleries) the situation has changed and Musrara is now a cool place to live in.
Still, the first time I meet Muslala, it is on the rooftop of a shopping mall (Clal Building) close to the Machane Yehuda Market.
“The Mirpeset” (The Terrace/ Balcony) is since 2 years the new location and main project of the Muslala. This is where I met Schmulik. Ancient student from Bezalel and now active in divers social and art projects, he took time to explain to me with what activities Muslala started, what type of people work in Muslala and the function and aim of this new place: “The Mirpeset”.
So for what stands Muslala, what is their objectif?
Muslala started in Musrara neighbourhood and in Hebrew “maslul“ means “trek“, like a trail of a hike. So Musrara and maslul made Muslala, an art trail in the neighbourhood of Musrara using the characteristics of the neighbourhood as kind of microcosmos of Jerusalem. It’s on the seam between east and west Jerusalem and Muslala always creates meeting points in friction areas of the divers communities of Jerusalem. That’s our main object, our guideline.
Like the “Watermelon Festival“ you did? Between green and red, with the Palestinians.
Yes, that’s the one that actually kicked us out the neighbourhood.
Because people were scared?
Also a lot of politics involved, which I don’t want to get into. High, high politics, like intrigues, but also in the field there were a lot of people for whom we crossed the barrier by bringing Arabs into their neighbourhood. Because the neighbourhood is on the seam, but it’s on the Israeli side.
And what were the projects of Muslala at the beginning?
At the beginning it was an art trail of local and international artists, with a few main projects once in a while. We had a map of all the places and had a very high input in public space art. We started to do tours explaining the art and go to eat hummus in the old city. That became the big thing in the Muslala. Matan was the one who carried the project the most.
In the trail there was a wall where painters got invited to overpaint every time a part of an old painting, so it kept moving! There were also art works that stayed and with the time (by inviting more and more artists, locals and from abroad) they became more and more and the map filled up.
Another thing we had for 3 months was an alley of photography where you could move the photographs and assemble them together to create in a sens your own photo exhibition. So always things were moving and we regularly had to think of how curating the space newly.
That was the flagship project at that time, like now it is “The Mirpeset”.
So, if I understood well the Muslala is first of all a group that wants to create exchange between the communities, to be a meeting point between the borders, like with the art trail and the “Watermelon Festival” ?
Besides beeing a meeting point, the Muslala wants to be (also through “The Mirpeset”) a platform that allows other people to act. One example is the wood workshop. An idea of a guy called Natan. He wanted to start this project, but alone he couldn’t do it, because he doesn’t have the structure, the background. So Muslala gave him the backup he needed to realise his project.
A lot of people from Muslala come from social enterprise.
So the people here are not necessarily from art studies.
No, not at all! I would say me and Matan we are from the art world and the others are more from art and architecture (Dafna), Natan was more of a tour guide who likes to do cool stuff, Ayal is a producer, Rami back then was also more someone who does initiatives… all kind of entrepreneurs.
So Muslala offers to be a platform for projects that are in its genre. So if the genre, the red line is to use art in a social/ in a communicative way, if there is another initiative and the energy of someone else, I can be the umbrella for this idea. And sometimes those projects live a total emergence. Like what happened with the wood workshop. It was Natan’s Baby but it emerged totally into the mechanism of Muslala. Natan runs it but he could let it go and it would still be functioning, he build also a group of kind of half-volunteers around it, like other carpenters that volunteer for one day, and then they have access to the workshop all the time. So they don’t need a studio.
So in that sense it also supports artists or craftsmen from outside to be able to do their work without needing to finance a studio?
Definitely. There is no payment, because that makes complications in the economical structure, but there is exchange. Natan got donations for the tools for the workshop from Macita International.
We get found-raising for specific goals that is hard to use for other purposes. Like we got support from the “Season of Culture” for the “The moving forest” projects but we can’t use it for other projects. We can combine it later, but it is so called coloured money.
How did the “The Mirpeset” project start?
The Balcony / Terrace derives from projects of before. Dafna and Matan started teaching in a small art school which is more into combining social and art and from the students there came the idea. They had the wish of doing something concrete, the wish to do something in the city, establish relationships between shops or others. So came the wish to do something with the Clal building. And it got important. They started developing the idea, meeting people, we had meetings here…
They got like the new Muslala, Muslala juniors! So first it was more a school project, but then it got more serious and we started to talk with the management department of the building. This place has an interesting economical structure, cause although it’s a communal space, it is private belonging and for our project we needed the agreement from the 322 shop owners, so we are in need to have good relationships with them and convince them to support us (which for the start was not too difficult because the rooftop was a deserted place, we made everything).
For me art is a tool to do actions without the limit of another field. In other fields you need lots of accords. Art is a kind of disguise for actions. A different definition in the administration. And if you don’t get the accord you can still say don’t care we do it! But here in the Muslala we try to do it in a kind of nerdy way, in a good way. With the approval of the divers institutions and helping both of them to communicate (the private structure and the municipality to support this project).
And what was the idea of this place?
We are kind of “in-betweeners”. So we start talking a lot about new urbanism. Cause when you start working with art and community, urbanism naturally arrives. We want to do art, want to be meta point, work with sustainability… And we are dealing with public spaces of the city. Want to show people the potential of the city. So this is kind of the idea of this place: kind of a park, a workshop, a place that can expose people to ideas, to open up their head to different kinds of sustainable practices (water management, urban gardening, birds, alternative energy, recycling and trying to be a neutral meeting space…)
How does the “Mirpeset” work? What do you do there?
We build 4 centres of people which joined Muslala that have passions: Yossi has a passion for bees, so he opened up the bee-centre. There is the soil-and mud-building centre, we do exchange of sustainable thoughts, the urban farming, urban-bee-keeping, body-motion-and-soul courses (like yoga for example)…
All this happened in a process of 2 years that we also took organisational consulting with the JCU for working on our business model.They send us support in management and did meetings with us to define our text, our construction, our goal, what we actually want…
Apart from the sustainability and social projects what are the more cultural projects?
This is the centre but we mostly do art projects outside of the centre. For example this project for the “Season of Culture“: Similar to the watermelon stand, we have this year “The moving forest” which takes place on Zions Square. We propose people to drink water from a source we build and to take time to sit among the trees and flowers we planted on moving supports and simply – to breathe.
You, as having studied art and being part of the Muslala group, do you have any personal artistic project?
I have a dream to do something on the waterline in Jerusalem that passes through east and west. And the Clal Building is part of the line! If I want to do this I can use Muslala as a platform, but also as part of the trail. I want to do art works that talk about the subject.
You want to deal with it in a natural way or more in a political way? Because water is also a very political issue.
I want to curate this. I might also do works on this, but I want to invite people. If an artist wants to do a sculpture or a performance on the topic it’s fine with me. I want to open a call for action on this and I find it interesting that here is the centre of the rain division line. You can see it in the topography. It’s interesting that the nature has a division that is natural. And it also influences historically on how people in this region treated water. Water used to be the main issue. Now it’s not, now it’s money. But in a hundred years water will be the main thing again.
This is an example that the Muslala is the turning point for projects. Ideas are growing and here we have the tools to realize them. And I believe that now our projects will be connected to our centre, because these are our tools now.
Also because as a group you need to have a red line running through your works, no?
Yes, to create an identity.
But at the same time we want to keep it open for people from outside to join the Muslala. Like what we do with the „studio“. A place of sharing f.ex. for giving ideas and working with experts/ architects of ours to put up projects and design the space together. We don’t want to be like snobs, far from the people. People from all borders: shop owners, students, whoever can join in the planning process.
The whole idea of Muslala is an expanding community. If you want to be part of it just come.
Thank you very much Schmulik for this rich interview.