A wealth of treasures

Set against the Mediterranean Sea is an 18th century building that stands tall in an upscale section of the Old City of Jaffa, just south of Israel’s bustling Tel Aviv.

A wealth of treasures

The overall view of the museum with a sculpture garden rooftop

Ananya Bahl

Set against the Mediterranean Sea is an 18th century building that stands tall in an upscale section of the Old City of Jaffa, just south of Israel’s bustling Tel Aviv. In the 1970s, Old Jaffa, which dates back to the Biblical times, provided budding artists with the ambience to work on a diverse range of art. Many of them set up their homes, workshops and galleries here. Born and raised in Tiberias, Ilana Goor was one such artist, who moved here in the early 1980s. She bought a portion of the building, which through the years had served as an inn, a cosmetics factory, synagogue and shelter, and used it as a private residence. It was only when she bought the whole property in the 1990s, with the intention of starting a museum that she realised the wealth of treasures it held.

What makes the museum special is that it gives visitors a unique viewpoint. It steers clear of the sterile atmosphere of a typical art gallery and instead focuses on interspersing art among everyday objects and life. This takes away from the elitist nature of art, making it more accessible to patrons and introduces them to the artist’s perspective. Since it also serves as Ilana’s home, it is not uncommon to see her working or walking in the compound.

Visitors are spoilt for choice as the museum boasts an eclectic collection of 500 works of art across mediums and styles. Not only does it contain artwork by Ilana but also Israeli greats like Uri Lifshitz and Menashe Kadishman among others. Ilana herself is a self-taught, individualistic and multidisciplinary artist and this ethos is displayed in the collection that spans sculpture, painting, photography, design-furniture, lighting, Judaica and cutlery, etc. The sculpture garden on the museum’s roof is unmissable: here, several figures are juxtaposed against olive trees and tranquil benches, enriched by the salty sea breeze. The Monk’s Room houses two large tables that Ilana found in a dilapidated monastery in Greece.

On these, she showcases her ‘The Morning After’ project that represents the cycle of life and death with bronze figures of insects, skulls and reptiles gnawing at the food. The Lattice Space showcases gender-specific artworks and is named after the original lattice windows in the room through which women would peek at the streets when the building served as a wealthy Arab home. The museum boasts a vibrant ethnic African collection and an expansive library. It hosts public and private guided tours for adults and kids.

As for the wealth of treasures that Ilana discovered? Well, one day, she noticed that the ceiling of the Sculpture Room had started chipping. While fixing it, the original decorative ceiling built in the 18th century was exposed. It was designed using the ‘beehive technique’ with clay amphorae, adding an ornamental touch to the chamber.

Additionally, the museum’s souvenir shop is located within a stone oven that can be traced back to when the building served as a cosmetics factory!

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