JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A smell of spray paint drowns out the odor of fresh fish and meat as night falls on bustling Mahane Yehuda, a food market that is one of Jerusalem’s most popular shopping sites.
From early morning until late evening, the Israeli market’s narrow, covered alleys are packed with local shoppers and tourists pushing their way past packed stalls in search of the best fresh produce or juicy kebabs.
But after dark, when the stall owners shut up shop for the night and roll down their metal shutters, the closed storefronts become a personal canvas for 22-year-old artist Solomon Souza.
In the past year, Souza, helped by his friend, Berel Hahn, who came up with idea, has painted about 140 shutters with graffiti-style murals of characters that have inspired him, ranging from biblical heroes to former Israeli prime ministers.
Souza’s tools for this night’s job are about a dozen spray-paint cans and his smart-phone. His glance alternated between the phone, depicting Lucy Aharish, a popular Arab-Israeli news anchor, and the three-meter-high (10 feet) version of her he was creating, one spray at a time.
Mahane Yehuda market, which over years has experienced a number of deadly Palestinian attacks against shoppers, is also one of Jerusalem’s hottest night spots, with bars open and music echoing through the walkways until dawn.
Souza lifts the face mask he wears against the fumes, the straps of which squish down on his skull cap worn by orthodox Jews.
“I’ve had nightmares about this,” the former Londoner, said softly with a smile. “So many shutters.”
Souza and friends who help him, seek out store owners to get permission to paint their shutters, but sometimes they approach him and may ask for a painting of someone specific, such as a famous rabbi or family member. Others have given him free rein.
A few stalls down from Aharish’s portrait, Souza chose to paint Si Ali Sakkat, a former mayor of Tunis who helped save Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.
Souza works for free and said he looks to share his sources of inspiration and to add life to the market. He hopes to bring in other artists to help fill the remaining 200 or so shutters.
Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Ori Lewis and Raissa Kasolowsky