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Plastic Poetica: Israeli Artist Turns Earth’s Trash into Treasure

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By: Simona Shemer

Combing through garbage might sound like a cumbersome chore for some, but for Beverly Barkat, it’s an effective form of artistic creativity. The Jerusalem-based artist is using her latest art installation to comment on the global crisis of plastic pollution, connecting it to nature and the future of mankind.

Her latest art installation, Earth Poetica, is set to be displayed at the Gottesman Family Israel Aquarium in Jerusalem starting Sunday, February 6 for six months before heading to other cities around the world, and ending its run at the new World Trade Center complex in New York.

Beverly Barkat. Photo by Leopold Chen

For Barkat, the wife of former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, it’s the first solo exhibit in Israel in five years. Born in Johannesburg, South Africa to parents who were ceramists, she came to Israel at 10 and studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, but later focused on raising three daughters as her husband carved out a role as an entrepreneurial and political career. Later, she concentrated on architectural projects, studied drawing and painting with Israeli painter Israel Hershberg and learned glass-blowing in the Czech Republic. She also sculpted clay and learned jewelry design.

Today, Barkat is a renowned artist skilled with oil paint, clay, metal, and glass, who has showcased her art in cities like Taiwan and Tel Aviv.

She knew that she wanted to work with plastic waste after seeing a documentary where poor children waded through the plastic waste that had washed up on the seashore.

“They were scavenging for treasure and the picture stayed in my mind and haunted me, making me think, ‘Is this the heritage we are bestowing on the next generation?’” Barkat tells NoCamels.

Israeli artist Beverly Barkat pieces together a giant globe made from plastic waste. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon.

The image haunted her and stood in stark contrast to the experiences she had as a child walking on the beach and picking up seashells in South Africa, where she lived until she was 10.

“I felt it needed to be a work that has impact on its surroundings and comes from its surroundings. So it sort of takes and gives back simultaneously,” she explains, “I returned to the studio and started working with plastic bags that were plastic waste that I had collected personally. I came back from the States with plastic waste. When I went to Great Britain I brought plastic waste. And when I went to exhibit in Taiwan, I came back with plastic waste. That was all pre-Corona.”

Barkat spent three years collecting and cutting up plastic waste from around the world. The acclaimed artist also tells NoCamels that when the coronavirus outbreak hit and international travel was banned or cut down in many regions, people who heard of the project sent her their own plastic waste from areas like Australia, Europe, and Asia.

She used metal, bamboo, and soy-based epoxy resin to create a sky-high sphere four meters (13 feet) in diameter that would eventually take on the look of a globe. The sphere has wrought iron panels in the shape of trapezoids on the outside and bamboo rods holding up plastic waste — containers, bottles, netting, plastic, bags, and more — on the inside.

Israeli artist Beverly Barkat collects plastic waste for her “Earth Poetica” exhibit. Photo by Oren Ben Hakoon.

Barkat calls the globe a “jewel from afar” because the outside gives off a sheen, like stained glass. “When you see it, you don’t know if it’s vitrage or what exactly is in it, if there’s glass — it’s just so beautiful,” she says.

Plastic bags, shining through the panels like glistening glass, ebb and flow, creating what look like large-scale bodies of water. There are five garbage patches within the layers of waste to represent “the currency in the oceans that are growing because of us,” Barkat says. She also incorporates colors like green, yellow, pink, and brown to represent continents.

The shining beauty of the outer shell of the sphere is juxtaposed with the inside — where wrappers, cartons, nets, plastic, bottles, and packages mix to form layers of chaotic mess of jumbled garbage. Barkat deliberately created a contrast between the outside and the inside and then kept a few panels left open as peepholes so that visitors can take in the outside and then peek into the inside of the globe.

“That’s a psychological aspect that I’m using to enable the observer to come in and actually experience the work,” she says, “When you go and you see the work from plastic waste, what you do psychologically is that you connect yourself. You start to build that screen. That’s their problem. It’s not my problem.”

“When it comes together and you steer it as a beautiful jewel, you open up to it and then you can experience it. Only when you go closer up to it from the outside, and you start seeing graffiti, like words, images, that you will start to say, ‘Wait, where’s the plastic? And you start understanding.”

She tells NoCamels that she deliberately placed plastics from one part of the world in another area to demonstrate how plastic moves from one place to another and how humans are interconnected and must work together to solve the plastics crisis.

If humans don’t change the way they behave, this is physically what we are going to look like in the future, she admits. “We’re covering ourselves with plastic waste. There are beaches covered with plastic waste, right? There are islands turning into manmade continents in the ocean because of plastic. I’m saying, this is the future. It’s a scary notion that this is our direction. It’s sort of a mirror into what we are doing to ourselves”

Barkat is adamant that she is not giving a solution for fighting the plastic pollution problem. Instead, she says she is “raising a dialogue” to create change.

Beverly Barkat in her Jerusalem studio creating a globe from plastic waste. Photo by Leopold Chen.

“I’m raising something that, through my art, people will be emotional about. And if you’re emotional about something that sticks with you — if you feel it in your guts, if you go through some kind of interaction with it, it’ll stay with you and then be burnt into your memory,” she explains.


This article originally appeared on the NoCamels.com web site.

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