Meet Ronit, Israeli Artivist
"I thought I was just going to create art in my studio. Little did I know that I would become an artivist."
I met Ronit this year on Shavuot (Best. Night. Ever. I wrote a recap of it in my post called “Excuse me, is this "‘Jews and UFOs?’”). I loved her energy as we danced to disco beats silently on an Upper West Side rooftop.
I didn’t see her again until last week, when we ran into each other at a Brooklyn Hanukkah party. Call it bashert, because she told me all about her great activism work she’s doing in the art world to raise awareness of the 240 hostages that were taken by Hamas on October 7th. As of today, there are over 100 hostages still held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza. Meet Ronit.
Ronit Levin Delgado is a New York-based multidisciplinary visual artist and from Israel. She was one out of three people selected from Israel as a Fulbright Scholar, a highly competitive prestigious international academic program with a mission to promote international cultural exchange and mutual understanding between nations through various disciplines. At the time, she didn’t think her nationality would have such an impact on her art. In fact, Ronit initially shied away from her Israeli ethnicity in the art world. So how did she become an “artivist” (artist + activist)?
“I am aware that only by being Israeli, my art has already inherited political context. I was trying to get away from this and create art that is more universal and expresses themes that everyone from any background, nationality, religion can relate to. We are all human beings and, in my art, I like to explore our common ground we share as a society. “
Five months ago, Ronit was awarded a residency with the prestigious Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, an Artist-in-Residency program on Governor’s Island.
When she first got accepted, she was planning on creating a multidisciplinary project called Muchachim Liyot Sameach מוכרחים להיות שמח (“Must Be Happy”), on the roots of Jewish happiness and joy, with the use of mirrors as introspective reflection and feminine objects like lipstick to emulate self-love. It was supposed to be fun and uplifting, but all of that changed after October 7th.
News broke out that Hamas attacked homes and a music festival in southern Israel. The terrorists had murdered, raped, and kidnapped women, men, babies, including her friends.
“I knew several people who died on October 7th. Israel is so small that it's impossible not to know anyone who was directly affected by the war, whether they were killed or kidnapped. I was so scared to open Facebook as my newsfeed was filled with more and more obituaries of friends’ families and my own friends every day.”
At the studio, she felt lonely, isolated, and unseen, and that was when she decided to pivot and make some noise for those held in captivity.
#BringThemHome: A Silent Protest Performance
When Ronit returned to the studio after putting up kidnapped flyers around the city with other Israelis, she decided to utilize the posters and transform them into art by creating a performance on Governors Island and a large-scale installation.
She performed a silent protest performance on the island using the kidnapped flyers. Set against the pastoral backdrop and peaceful scenery of the island, Ronit wrapped herself in a Mylar Emergency Rescue Blanket bearing the faces of hostages in Gaza, followed by volunteers with their mouths covered by red tape. The performance served as a poignant statement that symbolized the global silence surrounding the hostages' release.
“After October 7th, I couldn’t continue exploring the themes of happiness and joy that I initially researched for my LMCC residency on Governors Island.
After a week of feeling paralyzed and not going into the studio to work, I suddenly felt an urge, a responsibility as an artist to respond. So I created a silent protest performance art, where I called for people to join the march around the island, wearing red tape on their mouths to represent the world’s silence. I decided to use my voice and essence as an artist at a time when others couldn’t use their voice at all.”
She brought the performance back to her studio, incorporating elements from her previous pre-October 7th idea, like mirrors. To make the flyers personal and thought-provoking, Ronit replaced hostages’ faces with mirrors so viewers could see themselves as the kidnapped as an effort to build empathy.
But not everyone has empathy, unfortunately. Her studio mates’ reaction to the posters was not so positive. Fellow artists said it was offensive and propaganda that only showed one side (even though it was Hamas who broke a ceasefire pre-October 7th and carried out the deadliest attack on Israeli soil in the last 50 years), and that Ronit needed to censor herself (for what, telling the truth and sparing the gory details?).
“I couldn’t believe it! It wasn’t like I hung up pictures of the atrocities from October 7th, like the rape, burnt babies, and the aftermath of the horror. If you’re so offended by my art, maybe you should take a closer look in the mirror. Look inward and ask yourself why you’re feeling so offended.”
“The events of the real world tested me and my art. It’s ironic that when I first started to explore finding inner peace despite the traumas that we all have as individuals, October 7th happened and I had to truly find it within the most painful national trauma that broke us all. I feel that it’s my role as a Jewish female artist (and human being) to explore and share different ways and processes to be happy even through hardship and heavy things that we carry (rocks).”
I had the chance to visit Ronit’s studio and see some of her work before she moved out of the residency. One of her upcoming exhibitions will be with the Jewish Art Salon at the 2023 Jerusalem Biennale (originally in November but postponed to March). I am looking forward to the day when this war will end, the remaining hostages are freed, and Ronit can go back to exploring Jewish happiness through her art.
P.S. For more Jewish art and exploring identity through photography, click here!
Ronit Levin Delgado
Ronit Levin Delgado is a New York–based multidisciplinary visual artist and a Fulbright Scholar from Israel. Levin Delgado has won multiple awards and honors, including the most recent and prestigious Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Artist-in-Residence program for 2023-24, the 2023 Amen Artist of the Week Fellowship, Asylum Arts, Trestle gallery, the Fulbright Scholarship, and is currently serving on the board of directors of Fulbright's Greater New York Chapter, The Jewish Art Salon, ArtKibbutz and the Muslim-Jewish Solidarity Committee as the Art and Culture Advisor. Levin Delgado has had solo and two-person exhibitions, and her multimedia work has been widely shown in international group exhibitions in Israel, Europe and the US, including the Queens Museum, Heller Museum, Art Basel Miami, Spring/Break Art show, Magnan Metz Gallery, Pratt Manhattan Gallery, Trestle, The Border, The Cell, Museum of Russian Art, Grace Exhibition Space (NY), The Frame (PA), Guttman Museum, Hertzelilinblum Museum (TLV), Cardiff, Wales and Leeds(UK). Her most recent upcoming show, Levin Delgado was selected to exhibit her work at the Jerusalem Biennale in November 2023. Her work is featured in both private and public collections.