Why you should care
Because you don’t truly know a city until you’ve seen its street art.
“Are you ready to see some illegal shit?” Elinoy Kisslove is standing on top of a short pole that she can barely balance on. At every stop she finds something she can stand on to make sure she sees everyone in the crowd and, more important, to make sure those gathered in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood can hear her. By day she’s a tour guide; by night she’s an artist leaving her mark on the city.
There is no lack of tours in Israel. You can walk the old cities of Jerusalem, Jaffa and Caesarea. You can hike up Masada before dawn and watch the sun rise over Jordan. But Kisslove’s tour is about graffiti. The Grafitiyul experience gives you a sense of the area’s history and conflict while also showing the struggles of modern-day Israelis. And it takes place in a neighborhood that refuses to let anyone take down or cover up the longest-standing piece of graffiti in the city: a 20-year-old black-and-white depiction of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
There are also pieces scrawled on warehouses, bars, restaurants, even a synagogue.
The two-hour tour winds through main streets and alleyways, where the new artists like to practice. There are also pieces scrawled on warehouses, bars, restaurants, even a synagogue. The doors of some closed stores are tagged with bright colors and illustrations: the face of a woman smoking, a bespectacled man with birds for eyes.
For Kisslove, it’s important that people see art instead of vandalism. Her aim is to “open people’s eyes beyond the stigma and to introduce them to a world they didn’t know before.” She watches how tourgoers react to the graffiti and uses it as inspiration for her own — she refuses, though, to point out which pieces are hers. Some of Tel Aviv’s graffiti artists, who also prefer to remain anonymous, have provided Kisslove with information about their pieces. A few even stop to talk to the groups when they are caught in the act. However, other artists are opposed to the tour. “Graffiti tours are a lie, and you’re just a slut” reads one wall — a piece that has since been added to the tour.
What makes the tours — up to four during the day and one at night — so appealing? “People are sick of seeing things that are expected or planned,” Kisslove says; she believes they want to see works by “people who do things for the process and not for the income.” Nearly half of those who take the tour are Israelis; even Tel Avivians sign up — people like me who have daily walked the city’s streets, but haven’t paid much attention to the illegal shit.
As we walk down the streets, passing by a dozen works of art every few feet but stopping only every few blocks, Kisslove points out several pieces that weren’t there the day before. The graffiti tour is a “living gallery,” she says. “There is no curator that decided who will paint and how he paints.… Everyone can express themselves on these walls.”
Even you. At the end, you’re handed a can of spray paint and invited to leave your own mark on the city. You don’t know how exhilarating spray-painting the side of a building is until you try it in broad daylight in Tel Aviv.
Take the Tour: Grafitiyul
- Directions: The tours take place in Tel Aviv’s Florentin neighborhood, easily accessible via taxi, bus or on foot. A tip from a local: Don’t drive — parking in Tel Aviv is a nightmare.
- Cost: 100 shekels (about $30) per person
- Timing: Tours are offered both during the day and at night throughout the year. Tour lengths vary from two to four hours, and some include a workshop (expect those to be on the longer side). Keep in mind that you will be walking outside, so you may not want to take the tour in the middle of the summer.
- Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or +972-556638970