Jerusalem Landlord Likes Squatter's Art, Cancels Eviction

After seeing Rachel Yedid's paintings, the derelict house's owners agree to let her work there until they need the premises.

Paintings of women that Rachel Yedid produced over the past two years in a derelict Jerusalem building, which she happened upon, will be exhibited in coming months in Belgium, France and Germany.

In the partly destroyed attic of a house in the center of Jerusalem, Yedid found documents and letters belonging to the late Miron Sima, an internationally known artist, who had taught in Jerusalem.

squatter - Olivier Fitoussi - March 25 2011
Olivier Fitoussi

"I passed this house for months and saw there was no one here, so I entered and started working," Yedid said.

She came to the rundown house with the rusty gate every day for two years to paint. There were holes in the floor and ivy and tree branches poking through the windows. In the absence of electricity she used the daylight streaming in through the broken windows on the second floor to paint oils of pale women on a dark background on large canvases.

The building's owners, who came to see it about a year ago, were surprised to find Yedid there, painting. After seeing the paintings, they agreed to let her work there until they needed the premises, she said.

In a drawer of a broken dresser Yedid found love letters Miron had received from a woman called Edit, who lived in Tel Aviv. There were also posters saying "Hanna Rovina, sketches by Miron Sima." Rovina, known as "the first lady of Israeli theater," was a close friend, and there were rumors of an affair between them. Sima made lithographs of her, and the posters are apparently remnants of an exhibition.

Sima was born in a shtetl in Czarist Russia (today Ukraine ) in 1902 and studied art in Odessa in 1921 before moving to Dresden, where he studied and worked at Dresden's Academy of Fine Arts. He was awarded the prestigious Dresden Art Prize in 1932. The following year, with Hitler's rise, he was deported and came to Palestine, settling in Tel Aviv.

In 1939, he moved to Jerusalem, where he taught art and co-founded the Jerusalem Artists House. "He painted refugees and beggars when it wasn't customary, in contrast to the abstract modern art prevalent in Tel Aviv at the time," said Galia Bar Or, curator of Ein Harod Museum of Art, where Sima's estate was moved.

Sima mounted numerous exhibitions and was also known for the drawings he made during Adolf Eichmann's trial. He was awarded the Dizengoff Prize twice and a medal at the Venice Biennale in 1963. He was a member of the Zurich and Florence art academies.

Sima died in 1999, at the age of 97. Shortly before he died, he left the big house, to a hotel and to a family who had looked after him.

Yedid said she benefited from the inspiration Sima left among the house's walls. She pointed to wood cuttings Sima had done and said his work bears a similarity to hers. "In his work black has great significance, too, and he also focused on women," said Yedid.

"I just want to be here more and more. There's a room where a tree branch broke a window and comes out the other window. I just want to tell people who have such houses they should let artists work there. People should let the houses talk," she said.