“The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey” brings Israel to Greencastle


Though only two people in the Peeler Auditorium had ever visited Israel, by the time curator Mark Sloan had taken the audience through Yaakov Israel’s artwork, it felt as if everyone in the room had visited the Jewish state.

Consisting of 42 images in various sizes, Israel’s exhibition is titled “The Quest for the Man on the White Donkey”, and is a collection of photographs of the side of Israel that many never see.

“It’s not a tourist brochure kind of approach,” said Sloan, who is the director and chief curator of the Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art at the College of Charleston School of the Arts. “This is the way it is. The way [Israel] saw it.”

In a 45-minute discussion, Sloan took those in attendance through a slide show presenting many of Israel’s photographs from both this exhibit and the project he is currently working on, which focuses more on landscape.

The exhibit currently on display contains a wide variety of subjects. The titular piece of a man on a white donkey is grouped with a broken basketball goal built against a tower, a drained and overgrown water park, a man praying at a gas station with a religious book open on the back of his car and armed soldiers at a picnic site, to name a few. A Jewish man, Israel also focuses on photographing the Arab people.

“These are images the give you questions and ask questions,” Sloan said. “They force you to slow down and make your own assumptions.

In Israel’s presentation of his work at the Halsey Institute, he described what he hoped to do with these photos, and Sloan relayed his message to Wednesday night’s group.

“I want to provide views of places that people have never seen before,” Sloan said, quoting Yaakov.

Sloan encouraged an open-ended discussion, rather than a lecture, so audience members were welcome to ask questions and provide their own insight throughout.

Taylor Zartman, the Arthur E. Klauser Education and Community Outreach intern, questioned the overlap that existed in Israel’s diptychs—two separate photographs that show a unified image.

“There’s varying levels of fissure,” said Zartman. “As a Jewish man photographing an Arab community, I think that could be a very relevant reason for the fissure.”

Cindy O’Dell, professor of art in photography, also added to the discussion.

“It seems like this process is more about trying to make a world that’s not stable, stable,” she said. “There’s very little visual reference to faith, so this is kind of an attempt to humanize the landscape. It feels like this idea of an “open heart”—everyone has to live here.”

This informal, yet informative, presentation of Israel’s art served as an introduction to the exhibition itself, which currently resides in the Peeler Upper Art Gallery, where it will remain until November 26.