Dezeen Magazine

Fragmented X on the front of Hansen House at Jerusalem Design Week

Jerusalem Design Week "not like regular design weeks you see in Europe" say curators

Jerusalem Design Week curators Sonja Olitsky, Dana Ben Shalom and Jeremy Fogel discuss hosting a cultural event against a backdrop of country-wide protests in this interview.

Israel's largest annual design event, Jerusalem Design Week returned this year for its 12th edition with designers responding to the theme of Lies and Falsehoods.

The design week took place at Hansen House from 22 and 29 June, showcasing 150 exhibitors. Many of the designers were Israeli, but the festival curators also wanted to display international designers.

Among these were six designers from Palestine, including Ibraheem Rajabi, Bushra Abbasi and Kavalya Atma, as well as designers from Hong Kong, China, Ukraine and Russia.

Jerusalem Design Week curators
Jerusalem Design Week curators Sonja Olitsky (left), Dana Ben Shalom (centre) and Jeremy Fogel (right)

According to the trio, Jerusalem Design Week is not commercially led and designers are encouraged to express different viewpoints, differentiating the event from typical design weeks in Europe.

"This event is not like regular design weeks you see in Europe," Olitsky told Dezeen.

"There is a big legacy around Jerusalem Design Week – it's always a bit controversial in its topics because it's non-commercial and there are no sponsorships," Shalom added. "Everyone is commissioned to bring their own voices into the spaces."

Hansen House during Jerusalem Design Week
The event took place at Hansen House

The design week was government-funded through the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the Jerusalem Development Authority, but Olitsky insisted this does not influence the content on display.

"The government is funding the event but we live in a democratic country where we can spread our opinions – for now," she said. "We are not obliged to some sort of propaganda, so you can see here a rich range of voices, opinions and creators."

Since the start of 2023, people in Israel have taken to the streets across the country in protest against the government's judicial reforms.

Hansen House during Jerusalem Design Week
Designs from 150 exhibitors were on display

If enacted, the changes would mean the government having control over the appointment of judges and the power to overrule court decisions with a majority of just one Knesset (parliament) member.

Just last week, 286,000 people were reported to have participated in a protest in Tel Aviv.

Fogel explained that at the time of deciding the theme of the 2023 design week, the curators could not have predicted the rise in protests taking place in the country.

"When we were talking about this theme about a year ago, we had no clue how relevant it would sound in the current Israeli political, social and cultural climate, where for many of us there is a sense of emergency and a sense of regime change," he said.

"We knew the theme would generally be relevant because of the period we are in, whether in the UK, America or Israel, everywhere we are concerned with fake news, deep fakes and the loss of trust in political institutions," Fogel continued.

"But at this time in Israel, we are at a climax of that concern, so unfortunately the theme is more relevant than we expected."

Hansen House during Jerusalem Design Week
Jerusalem Design Week took place from 22 to 29 June

Olitsky commented on how posters advertising the design week displayed in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv sit hand-in-hand with protest signs and encourage critical thinking.

"You can see it on the big campaigns on buildings and in Tel Aviv where people are going past with protest signs," she told Dezeen.

"We think it embraces the resistance and statement that we should stop and ask ourselves what is true and what are lies."

Design display of Russian dolls at Jerusalem Design Week
This year's theme was Lies and Falsehoods

The campaign's design was mainly composed of lettering, designed to look like protest art.

"We chose to go with a typographic campaign to relate to what is happening on our streets today and the fact that we are constantly in the middle of some kind of resistance to the political and social changes happening here in Israel," said Olitsky.

"This is our way as a cultural event and institute to mark our statement and position in this environment."

Artwork for Jerusalem Design Week
Artwork promoting the event was designed to look like protest art

"This is not a classic campaign that says 'hey come visit our design week' and I think this is the agency of this campaign, the fact that we decided to go with something not so straightforward and more enigmatic and strange," she added.

Of the 150 exhibitors at the event, 110 were Israeli designers, and many were graduates who studied in Jerusalem.

Olitsky explained that, as the largest event dedicated to design in Israel, it is fitting that the festival takes place in Jerusalem because of the city's high number of art and design schools.

Red light installation in a pitched-roof interior
The design festival was government funded

"It's a festival of design that can bring together students and professors from several institutes in one place that will exhibit their works and will be together on the same level because the opportunity is equal here," said Olitsky.

"Tel Aviv is imaged as a more free and cultural city, but the academic centre of design is actually in Jerusalem," she added.

Since Dezeen spoke with Olitsky, Shalom and Fogel, Israel launched its largest military operation in the occupied West Bank for years amid rising tensions in the region.

"Many of us juggled working on Jerusalem Design Week while participating in protests and just generally worrying about the awful degradation of world around us," the Jerusalem Design Week organisers said in a statement regarding the recent violence.

White metal play sculptures in a garden
Many of the contributing designers were Israeli, but Palestinians also took part

"We have no simple answer to justifying our privileged ability to keep doing what we love when there is so much violence and hatred around us. There is no simple answer," the statement added.

"Jerusalem Design Week is a proudly cross cultural event, with participants from all the communities in Jerusalem. We hope that by showcasing the possibility of collaboration and dialogue in our event, we at least promote a vision of a different future for this city that for so long has been at the heart of so much violence."

This year, Dezeen also spoke with Design Shanghai director Zhuo Tan about western furniture brands working in the Chinese market and Melbourne Design Week curator Timothy Moore shared his thoughts on the Australian event.

The photography is by Dor Kedmi.

Jerusalem Design Week took place from 22 to 29 June 2023 at Hansen House, Gdalyahu Alon Street 14, Jerusalem, Israel. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.