New Photo Exhibition Puts Focus on Tel Aviv's African Women

A new photography exhibition shows the women of a close-knit community wearing textiles they wove themselves, but great sadness hides behind their proud smiles

Chrisy Ewan
Chrisy EwanCredit: Michael Topyol
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

Kuchinate is a collective of about 300 women, mainly asylum seekers living in south Tel Aviv, who earn a living from knitting, sewing baskets and creating textile items from stunning African fabrics.

An exhibition featuring photographs of 14 women from the group by Michael Topyol and Miri Davidovitz opened in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Lina Otom Jak AgolonCredit: Michael Topyol

Topyol photographed the women right before the coronavirus lockdown began and Davidovitz photographed them about two years ago. In the photos, they gaze calmly into the camera, smiling and holding up baskets they made, but behind each woman in the pictures hides a story and great sadness.

Lina Otom Jak Agolon.Credit: Miri Davidovitz

One of the women is Lina Otom Jak Agolon, who came to Israel 11 years ago from Sudan. “She is our model,” says Ruth Garon, the collective’s marketing director. “She manages the collective’s shop and is the ‘beauty manager.’ She has an amazing sense of aesthetics and she is responsible for combining the African fabrics.”

Women from the Kuchinate collective, left to right: Tsegereda Rada; Ejigayehu Worku Balcha and Serkalem Elmo; Meron Weldu.Credit: Miri Davidovitz/Miri Davidovitz/Michael Topyol

Another woman photographed by Topyol is Chrisy Ewan. She is pictured wrapped in colorful cloth. Ewan is not a refugee, but rather comes from a Jamaican family that converted to Judaism. She has a master’s degree in social work and volunteers with the collective.

Also in the photographs is Hiyab, a 5-year-old girl holding Kuchinate dolls. She is the daughter of Meron Weldu, whose journey to Israel was harrowing and included being imprisoned by Bedouin. She doesn’t want to talk about what happened to her along the way.

Another photo of Lina Otom Jak Agolon.Credit: Michael Topyol
Bisrat HagosCredit: Miri Davidovitz

“Portrait of a Woman,” 26 Gordon Street, Tel Aviv, Monday through Thursday noon to 5:00 P.M., Friday and Saturday 11 A.M. to 2 P.M.