Arts & Culture Lion Statues Bring Welcome Roar to Residents of Besieged Jerusalem

Wherever you go in Jerusalem these days, full-size lions stand silently on guard.

On busy street corners in the center of the city, in the middle of flower-filled round-about, in front of the magnificent Jerusalem Theater, at several approaches to the colorful flag-filled City Hall Square you’ll come upon one of the 80 stately lions, individually “dressed” by professional and amateur Israeli artists.

Joining the international club of cities that have turned their streets into art galleries, Jerusalem chose as its symbol, the logo of the City of Jerusalem, the Lion of Judea.

Co-sponsored by Peugeot Israel, the $200,000 project has captured the imagination of Jerusalemites, from taxi drivers to attorneys, shopkeepers and shoppers, and especially children of all ages in the six weeks since they’ve been out on display.

As pedestrians and drivers travel throughout the city on their daily routes, they have become aware of the lions, some which are seated and some of which stand. The project has helped soften the unease and tension that is felt on the streets of Israel at this time. People walking by usually stop for a minute and smile at the lions. After observing them from all sides, they walk away in a happier frame of mind.

Established artists and those just finishing their studies were invited to take on the project of painting a lion, incorporating visual arts, graphics and industrial design, and showing daring expression and quality. They worked on a deadline of a month, together in a large studio set up in the basement of Teddy Stadium. Some artists were able to finish within a week or two; others used the entire month for their creation.

Bringing the idea to Jerusalem was the brainchild of Aliza Olmert, an artist and the wife of Jerusalem’s mayor, Ehud Olmert. The exhibit is managed by Dafna Naor, who has established and organized various art projects and exhibitions on behalf of private and public institutions in Israel and abroad.

The overall plan of placing plastic art statues on city streets originated in Zurich in 1998 when the project was introduced to the world. Hundreds of cow statues were decorated by different artists and captured the imagination of the city for months.

The originality and freshness of the project caught on all over the world and gave birth to similar projects in other cities. Cleveland, the home of the rock’n’roll museum, just joined the ‘club’ with guitars; Seattle has pigs, Toronto moose; Los Angeles angels, Miami flamingos, Berlin bears, New Orleans fish. Tel Aviv now has dolphins poised in the middle of a jump.

One of the most outstanding Jerusalem lions is one made of a mosaic of tiny mirrors of all sizes and shapes reflecting bright summer sunlight in front of the Jerusalem Theater on David Marcus Street. Another has been painted pink and given teats, establishing a female presence near the president’s and prime minister’s residences.

At the entrance to the Municipality of Jerusalem, the city hall complex, a large multi-colored plexiglass box captures a lion in a scene filled with snow. The design of the lion in front of the YMCA across from the King David Hotel invites children to climb on its back.

The lions will be up until mid-September. After that, the statues will be sold by public auction, and the proceeds will be distributed to a number of local charities. If you are interested in bidding on a lion and having a bit of Jerusalem brought home, visit www.jerusalem.muni.il.

Leah F. Chase is a freelance journalist based in Charleston S.C. who travels often to Israel and other Mediterranean countries.

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