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Dialogue With Ancient Inscriptions - The Mesha and Tel Dan Stela

In the well-locked vaults of Jerusalem's archaeological institutes lies hundreds of ancient stones, all but anonymous shards of history to the layman who happens among them. Upon being unearthed these stones may have enjoyed a moment's fame; then they were consigned once again to the dusty underground. Now enter Edna Miron-Wapner, an artist mesmerized by the Hebrew letter. She rediscovers the stones, with script chiselled by hand thousands of years ago, in the land of her birth. She queries the sources, seeks inspiration in them and from them. The result is a powerful dialogue of intellectual, spiritual, and aesthetic dimensions.

Two stones in particular engage her; the Mesha Stele and two fragments of the Tel Dan Stele. Dating from the 9th century BCE, both are engraved with royal memorial inscriptions and were erected at the end of the reign of a king to commemorate a victory over Israel. Both were made of black basalt, originally stood about three feet high and two feet wide, and were written in almost identical northwest Semitic script, close tho that used by the Israelites of the time. Each of the stela refers to the "King of Israel" and largely corresponds to events related in the second Book of Kings. In each, the writerjustifies his military acts before his gods and his people.
What compels Edna Miron-Wapner's dialogue with these stones?

As a calligrapher Edna was attracted by the ancient letters themselves; the Semitic letterforms that were shared by Hebrew, Aramaic, and Moabite scripts during the 9th century BCE. These same letters eventually would take on a new style and become origins of modern Hebrew. Venturing into archaeology and inspired by oriental art, Edna's rubbings of the stones transmitted ancient violent messages of war and victory over her ancestors. Her meditations on these beautiful but brutal inscriptions compelled here to add her own voice of fear in the face of fragmentation and separation felt in our region, her concern for security, and her sense of powerlessness at the continuing cycle of violence in our land.
Miron-Wapner's paintings and prints take on a timeless life of their own. The voice of the ancient victor, exulting in his triumphs, is publicized by stylus on stone - but the stone itself, broken and buried is very nearly lost. The artist's hand-rubbed impressions salvage the ancient messages, bringing forth yet another generation of images. To both these Miron-Wapner adds her own expression. On paper, on prints, her brushstrokes, beyond letterforms, slash the stones. The anguish of a defeated Israel epitomized by the rough, fragmented forms of the stones is echoed and transformed in the consciousness of a contemporary Israeli artist.

Bargara Gingold

website by varda spiegel, photographs by douglas guthrie