One thing almost everyone comments on when touring Switzerland is the cleanliness. Spotting garbage is almost exciting in its rarity. Somewhat surprising then, is the discordant trend of graffiti spray painted on buildings in both ritzy and downtrodden neighborhoods. While most of this tagging ruins the scenery, there are a few gems to be found, among them Jewman.
The first time I saw Jewman — a chasidic looking stick figure complete with curly peyot, black hat and rekel (chasidic coat) — my first instinct was to assume this was a display of anti-Semitism. However when I noticed that the figure was smiling I started to wonder about the person behind Jewman. There was something subversive, and ironic, about spray painting a pious figure for public view, especially in a conservative city like Zurich and especially in the heart of the city’s Jewish melting pot. Was Jewman a young charedi kid taking a risk? Or a street artist out to provoke the local Jewish population?
Imagine my shock when a few months later on a trip to Tel Aviv I round a corner near the Levinsky Market (where I’d just been to stock up on nuts and spices) and who do I spot but Jewman! It was one of those out-of-body déjà-vu moments of discombobulation. Was I in Israel, or Switzerland? What had now become clear, however, was that Jewman is most likely Jewish; after all, showing up in Israel would be just a bit too random. It seems he also likes to travel. But if he — or she — is a child, adult, religious or secular person, that remains unknown. Because what they do is illegal, even while some recognize their work as art, graffiti artists are anonymous by nature.
Have you seen any traces of Jewman in your area?
UPDATE, 2012: Jewman spotted in the Hottingen neighborhood of Zurich.