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Holy Land for Sale, 1996


Having contacted since 1994 big public companies using their logo to create a tension between religious/political and economic interests, I then started to export overseas, within an artistic context, my new products from the Holy Land.

For the work Holy Land for Sale, specially created for the show Desert Cliché, I created small bags of white cloth which I signed and numbered. Filled up with earth I had gathered, each bag was closed with a linen string and then sealed with red wax. On each bags I printed, beside the title of the work, the logo of the company Arim, (a government-owned urban development company) responsible for all infrastructure preceding the building of new towns throughout the country. The choice of this company was crucial for me as I related to the notion of the Holy Land. With it’s logo visible in many huge construction projects, including in controversial areas around Jerusalem, such as Har Homa located not far from Betlehem, Arim‘s activity, with all the ensuing ecological, topographical and political disruptions, gave an actual meaning to the fact that the “blooming of the desert” had now become an expression of advanced technological urbanization, far from the romantic notion of the biblical Holy Land.

The small man, digging with his shovel inside an earth mount, above my name, a logo usually warning the public about works in progress, represented in this case my own critical act as an artist digging/disrupting an earth mount, which curiously bared an uncanny visual relationship with Arim‘s own logo.


‘In the installation “Holy Land for Sale”, prepared especially for Desert Cliché, Ariane Littman-Cohen exports 150 bags of sacred soil to America, marketing Holy Earth in easy-to-carry, handy-size packages. The shapes of the bags are reminiscent of cement sacks (construction, blooming the desert) or sandbags (military posts, trenches), which have been miniaturized to convenient dimensions. A collective cultural memory has been packed into bags of earth, just like holy water or religious souvenirs from the holy land relics taken by people to the Diaspora.

This project was carried out in collaboration with Arim (in Hebrew: cities, towns), a government owned development company whose logo is printed on each bag. Responsible for all infrastructure preceding the building of new towns throughout the country, Arim has been preoccupied for more than twenty years with the blooming of the desert (literally), and all the ensuing ecological and topographical disruptions. Arim, the post-Zionist version of the Keren Kayemet (the Jewish National Fund), represents the technological development of the country. It is a testimony that Israel is no longer a “Holy Land with camels” but rather a capitalistic, industrialized state like any other Western country.

The “blooming of the desert” here is not a metaphor for planting forests (Keren Kayemet), but rather an expression of advanced technological urbanization.

This is not the first time that Ariane Littman-Cohen has collaborate with a local, commercial company. Joining with commercial entities for the purpose of art implies a certain degree of subordination, subjecting the companies to her desires and critical gaze. Holy Land for Sale can be viewed in the context of domesticating nature, uprootedness, wandering, detachment and nomadism. It can also be interpreted politically, as a metaphor for transferring areas of land from one hand to another.”

Tami Katz-Freiman, 1996 in: Desert Cliché, Israel Now- Local Images, The Israeli Forum of Art Museums & the Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida, 1996


In the Exhibition Visual Israeliness, exhibited at the Open University in Raanana, in 2007, Dr. Alec Mishory makes the link between the work Holy Land for Sale and  Jewish tradition:

“A Jewish tradition related to death and burial rites consists of placing ” a bag of earth from the Holy Land” in the grave of Jews who died outside of the Land of Israel in order to grant them a bond with the land, as if they were buried there. According to Talmudic tradition, being buried in the ground of the Land of Israel is a greater merit than burial anywhere else…placing earth from the Holy land in a grave outside Israel’s boundaries aids in the transition and helps a person reach the Holy Land faster and gain a place among the first to be resurrected.”

Dr. Alec Mishory then explains how “this traditional Jewish concept of the earth of the Land of Israel was bonded together with an Israeli-Zionist concept consolidated in 1949. In August of that year, the government of Israel decided to remove the remains of Theodor Herzl, the mythological leader of the Zionist movement, from Vienna and rebury him in Jerusalem, in a state ceremony. Herzl’s coffin was transported from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and he was put to rest on Mount Herzl. One of the symbolic acts included in the reburial ceremony was the placement of several small bags of earth from the settlements throughout the country in his new grave…Placing small bags of earth in Herzl’s new grave was an idea devised by one of the ceremony organizers…The bags o earth were collected from many settlements and entrusted to representatives who were given the title “earth-bag bearer,’ and were official participants in the ceremony. The idea secular in essence, and characteristic of Zionist thinking, was based on the Jewish religious belief in the resurrection, and in this ceremony, fulfilled the role of the religious Jewish concept.”

Dr. Alic Mishori in Visual Israeliness, Exhibition in the framework of the 23rd Annual Conference of the association for Israel Studies, The Dorothy de Rothschild Open University Campus, Raanana, June-July 2007, pp. 26-28







Ariane Littman