William Wegman’s video shows two dogs intently following something that has grabbed their attention. From the 'Cats and Dogs' exhibition at Israel Museum

Israel Museum Exhibit Explores the Role Cats and Dogs Play in Our Lives

Jerusalem exhibit displays videos, sculptures and paintings that focus on cats and dogs' connection with humans and their place in ancient religious rituals

In the coming weeks, Mona Lisa will be on view in the Youth Wing of the Israel Museum. Not the Mona Lisa, but the famous version by the Belgian painter Phillipe Geluck, with a cat’s head where the enigmatic lady’s head would be. It’s part of the new “Cats and Dogs” exhibition that opened on May 9.

Curated by Orna Granot and designed by Lilach Shatiat, the new exhibition is spread out over two floors of the Youth Wing. One level looks at animals on their own; the other looks at their connection with humans. On display is a rich array of photographs, illustrations, videos and even figurines of dogs from Mexico dating back 1,500 years.

Also featured is an exact plastic replica of one of the most important artifacts related to the early domestication of dogs: a dog that was buried alongside a woman more than 10,000 years ago, found at an archaeological site in the Hula Valley area. The exhibition also focuses on the place of cats and dogs in ancient religious rituals, and on stereotypes, like the negative image of black cats.

From the 'Cats and Dogs' exhibition at Israel Museum

Human perspective

Visitors of all ages will enjoy the exhibition: Children will find games and puzzles, while adults can observe the artistic representations of the animals. “We could have called it ‘Dogs, Cats and People’ because the works explore the complexity of the connection from the human perspective,” says Granot. She notes that, in terms of artistic renderings throughout history, cats seem to appear more often than dogs, whether in paintings or sculpture.

“Maybe it’s because cats are more individualistic, like artists. Dogs usually appear in art together with humans. They reflect the person’s point of view and are also reflected through him.”

One prime example of this is seen in a painting by Anat Shalev, in which the face of a child is reflected in the eyes of the dog who is gazing at him. A mesmerizing video by video artist William Wegman shows two dogs intently following something that has grabbed their attention, and the ending comes as something of a surprise.

One example of the humanization of cats and dogs is seen in Heather Mattoon’s paintings of cats in suits and bow ties. Menashe Kadishman’s painting of a childlike dog is also quite touching. But it can work the other way around too, as in the photograph by Austrian artist Valie Export showing a woman leading a man who is tied to a leash and walking on a street on all fours.

The exploitative and violent side of human-animal relations is hardly in evidence in the exhibition, apart from one striking example – Itay Marom’s video installation “Dogs,” which tracks the bleak fate of canines roaming wild in the Hebron and Kiryat Arba area. Ostensibly, these dogs have freedom, but they are chased down by humans who consider them a dangerous nuisance, eventually turning into packs of predators. At times they prey on endangered species that cannot escape when surrounded by the dogs.

From the 'Cats and Dogs' exhibition at Israel Museum

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