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the art of Ron Gang
 
 

In memory of
Asim Abu-Shakra
1961-1990

Asim Abu-Shakra
1986, in his studio in the Tel-Aviv School of Art ("Kalisher")
photo by Ron Gang

 Asim was a year ahead of me at art school where the classes were small and intimate.
Everyone knew everyone.  Asim came from Um El-Fahm, a large Arab village in
northern Israel.  His cousin, Farid Abu-Shakra, today curator of the art gallery in
Um El-Fahm, came to the school two years after Asim.  Another artist from his family
is Walid Abu-Shakra, who resides and works in England.

After Asim graduated, he taught drawing to the first-year class, so in my fourth year,
1986-7, I continued to see him at school. Later in the year, Asim fell ill, with what
turned out to be leukemia.  I graduated and returned to my kibbutz in the south. 
A year later, visiting Tel-Aviv I dropped into the school and was happy to see Asim.
The treatments were going well, he was optimistic and, as in the past, we talked about art.

Life and time kept going on, and being far from Tel-Aviv, I lost touch with my comrades
from school.  Two years later, I was shocked to hear that Asim had succumbed to the
disease and had passed away.

In 1995, the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art held an exhibition of Asim's paintings. 
I went to the show, and came away feeling rather depressed.  The main motif of his
works displayed was the Sabra cactus, always just a small potted plant.  Some said
it represented his being uprooted from his village landscape, and being as a potted
plant in the alien city of Tel-Aviv.  Asim was portrayed in the show as a political artist,
and much of the talk and writings around the exhibition dealt with his political dilema as
an Israeli Arab, and its expression in his art.  I also felt an atmosphere of gloom, possibly
coming across through his later works pained with the illness.

I though back to how I remembered Asim, from the "good old days" at school. 
I remembered how he was well-liked by all the students and teachers. I remembered
Asim being concerned first and foremost with artistic issues, the topics of many of our
discussions.  He was influenced by the drawings and paintings of Giacometti and also
the Israeli abstract painter Kupferman.  Yes, he was already doing work on political
topics when we were at school, but I felt that that was the "what" of the painting, and
that which mattered more to him was the "how".  In the same way, I was attracted to
landscape and portrait painting as the "what", but when we got together, we talked
about the "how", composition and colour, and critiqued each other's work.

Indeed, Asim was a painter, and a good one.  He spoke of coming some time to the
kibbutz to paint.  But, alas, it never happened.  I imagine that there he was in his garret
in Tel-Aviv breathing in all the fumes from the cars, and painting his potted sabra cactus. 
He would have felt better out in the open air, painting a cactus in the field.  And then
he succumbed to the leukemia.

After coming home from the museum, I decided to go out and paint a sabra cactus. 
In memory of Asim.  One growing freely out of  the ground, not in a tin can.  To liberate
Asim's sabra. About a kilometre out, on the way to the Habesor ravine, there's a big sabra
bush, from which I have gingerly picked prickly pears every summer.  So I started painting
there.  I decided not to look at any reproductions of Asim's until later, so as not to be
visually influenced.

As the work progressed, with many paintings done, it took a direction of its own. 
When I did finally look at some pictures of Asim's sabras, I saw that it was entirely
something else from what I had been doing.  The sabra provides me with inexhaustible
material for painting, and draws me closer to the land and its changes.

I want to dedicate these paintings to the memory of Asim Abu-Shakra, a gentle and
friendly person, and a truly fine artist.

                                                                - Ron Gang


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Ron Gang, Kibbutz Urim, D. N. HaNegev, 85530 Israel

telephone: 972-8-992-0561