Israeli artist educates public with Children’s Museum residency
Children's Museum brought Israeli artist to Pgh for 10 days

Israeli artist educates public with Children’s Museum residency

Merav Kamel, a Tel Aviv-based artist, spent 10 days in Pittsburgh working with artists and teachers on art projects, public engagement and creative exercises.

Merav Kamel works on a cloth doll. Kamel was F.I.N.E. Art Scholar at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)
Merav Kamel works on a cloth doll. Kamel was F.I.N.E. Art Scholar at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. (Photo by Toby Tabachnick)

Merav Kamel, a Tel Aviv-based artist, educator and partner at Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem — an independent nonprofit space for art and artists — spent two weeks in residence at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh leading programs, aiding patrons and supporting staff as the museum’s F.I.N.E. Art Scholar.

The rotating residency, which lasted from May 7 to 17, is supported by the Fine Foundation. As an acrostic, its name refers to Fresh Innovative Nonstop Expression; visual artists specializing in various media have participated since 2009.

“The goal of the program is to translate the artist’s studio practice and conceptual practice and bring it into the world,” said Zena Ruiz, program manager at the Children’s Museum. “It’s all about public engagement.”

Kamel, whose works have employed cloth, charcoal and etchings, praised the opportunity as having enabled a “connection beyond words.”

“Art is so amazing, especially in a new place,” she said. “It is an amazing way to connect beyond language and even when you do speak the same language.”

A recent collaboration by Kamel and fellow artist Halil Balabin. (Photo courtesy of Merav Kamel)
Throughout her Steel City stay, Kamel guided artists and teachers in creative exercises. In one setting she invited participants to sew cloth body parts for a future construction. At another juncture she requested pen holders to sketch internal self-portraits.

“They did a drawing of what they felt, what their heart was made of, their brain,” she said.

Whereas some illustrators took to orange and red hues to denote fire, other artists sought cooler colors to connote water.

“What Merav brings is an exploration of the body. Her work is very surreal,” said Ruiz, a former F.I.N.E. Art Scholar.

The directed activities have been informative, said Kamel. “It’s a great opportunity to check what stuff is universal and what stuff is more connected to myself.”

Back in Israel, Kamel, who collaborates with fellow artist Halil Balabin, regularly teaches children and young adults.

It is easy to see why her work is so impactful, said Ruiz. “As kids are growing up and trying to piece everything together,” they ask questions like “who they are in relation to other people and what does it mean to have a foot.” Kamel’s creations allow for a “playful manipulation of the human form.”

Kamel returned the praise by complimenting her hosts.

After thanking the Fine Foundation and Classrooms Without Borders for facilitating her visit, she called the Children’s Museum “beautiful” and said, “I wish I was a kid growing up there. They allow children to explore by themselves. They are not taking them by the hand and showing them one way. They give them the freedom, and I think that this is the best way to learn.”

In Israel, Kamel is an artist, educator and partner at Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem. (Photo courtesy of Merav Kamel)
As it turns out, Kamel first got an inkling into the power of art 20 years ago.

“When I was 10 years old I found the afikomen. My grandpa gave me this big amazing oil paint set, and my parents didn’t really know what to do with it. So I would just sit on the porch and I had this Van Gogh book and I would make a lot of copies,” she explained. Paint would splatter everywhere, “but it was the best way to learn.”

It is like what happens at the Children’s Museum, she added. “They give the kids very good materials and let them find out by themselves.”

Having Kamel in residence is “a wonderful way to introduce culture and community and try to fight what the media tells us all the time, said Ruiz.

“There are a lot of nuances and the issues are always more complicated than what we are fed. This is an opportunity to talk with someone who lives there and hear her experiences.”

Kamel’s awareness is central to her endeavors both in Israel and abroad, said Tsipy Gur, executive director of Classrooms Without Borders. “Merav is a fantastic artist. She’s young, full of energy, loves working with children and is a pleasure to learn from. Thanks to the Children’s Museum and the Fine Foundation, this brings Israel to the greater community and provides opportunities for our families of all backgrounds to learn about Israel.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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