A Tel Aviv Street Poet's Kim Kardashian Dream

The story behind Nitzan Mintz's graffiti, which saved her life at 17

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Nitzan Mintz, 29, defines herself as a “visual poet” and sometimes also as a street poet. Her works adorn the walls of Tel Aviv – words written in more or less hidden corners across the city. These days she works exclusively with the Zemack Contemporary Art gallery, where she will have a joint exhibition in April with the street artist Dede, her partner for the past six years. She was recently awarded the Ministry of Culture’s Young Artist prize for artists at the start of their careers.

“I was absolutely shocked when they called to inform me that I’d won,” she says. “I’m used to getting so much ‘no’ from the world of art. One of the reasons is that I’m a street artist – that’s considered inferior within the artistic establishment. When a phenomenon becomes mainstream, the establishment also embraces you more. The prize arrived at an extremely complex time for the art community in Israel. I was left with a very warm feeling and with a great deal of gratitude, and also somewhat confused.”

Nitzan Mintz. Credit: Guy Nahum Levy

Mintz recalls that she “started with street art at the age of 17, after my teenage love left me. My best friend and I were both brokenhearted and depressed in that period. We created a character, a scribble in a notebook. We bought cans of black spray paint and sprayed the character all over the city. We would go out at night, spray and run, screaming with joy, filled with fear and adrenaline. That’s how we saved ourselves from depression.

“I tried to commit suicide a little before the graffiti came into my life, so every experience snapped me back to life. Afterward, I took it to a more personal place and started to write poems on walls – at first handwritten and improvised, then with more calculation and planning, and with stencils. The poems came to me around the age of 15. They are the result of an encounter with a literature teacher who looked very much like Tina Turner and had a deep, beautiful voice with emphatic gutturals. She read Bialik to us, and sat on the edge of the table in a mini, legs crossed. I remember that when she read to us she passed into another dimension that was completely a massage for the brain. Thanks to her I started to write poetry. One time I wrote her a letter of thanks, but she deserves a lot more than that.”

No place to budge

Nitzan is the firstborn child of a father who is a software engineer and a mother who is a psychotherapist by training and who spends most of her time in Cuba. She has a younger biological brother and four siblings her parents adopted as a foster children. She was born and grew up in the old and now trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood of Tel Aviv and is the great-granddaughter of Shimon Rokah, one of the neighborhood’s founders. “When I was growing up, it was a decaying, poor neighborhood,” Mintz says. “In elementary school I was laughed at for living there. It wasn’t the same neighborhood it is today.

“There was no place to budge at home; I had mental disorders and eating disorders, especially bulimia, which I developed at an early age. At the same time, I smoked drugs with friends from the age of 13. I would escape to girlfriends and we would go to punk clubs and sometimes sleep in the street with punkheads and from there go to a class in school. I also really liked boys and always started up with them and tried to surround myself with them. Sometimes I had unpleasant experiences and sometimes I was surrounded by amazing people.”

A joint work by Nitzan Mintz and Dede. Credit: Aviva Ein­-Gil

A beloved partner

“I met Dede through the street,” Mintz says. “I saw works by him long before I saw his face or he saw mine. We define ourselves as married for eternity, but we don’t plan to get married within any framework, because we don’t have the need or the desire. I think I started to talk with him on Facebook, and we wrote to each other for a few years before we met. Even after it happened, he wasn’t into me and I had to do the initiating. In general, I’m crazy about shy, introverted men, so it brought out all my hunting tools. Today, after the years together, I’ve gained a partner who is someone beloved, a partner in creative work and a companion on trips. There’s nothing I needed more than this stability in my life.”

Their joint exhibition will consist of text, images and objects they discovered and documented in abandoned houses. In addition, Mintz is working on an artist’s book, designed by Tal Solomon Vardy with consultation by Gal Cohen, which will be a compilation of 10 years of creative work in the street. It will be published with the aid of crowdfunding. “It’s important for me to express through my personal stories the stories of others, too. Because I felt alone in the world, I want things to be good for others and for them not to feel what I did. One of my dreams is to create huge walls in Israel and the world with my texts, and another dream is for Kim Kardashian to buy a work from me for lots of money.”

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