The Softness of Iron: Sculptures by Orna Ben-Ami

Photos from around the School of Medicine campus of Orna Ben-Ami’s sculptures (Photos by Robert Boston. Music by Eric Patton.)

An exhibit of 29 iron sculptures by the Israeli artist Orna Ben-Ami is on display at Washington University School of Medicine through fall 2007. The sculptures can be viewed in the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center, Olin Residence Hall, Bernard Becker Medical Library, McDonnell Pediatric Research building, and other locations around campus.

About the art

Crafting each sculpture herself by cutting and welding, Ben-Ami creates highly symbolic pieces that carry universal, local, and deeply personal meanings, conveying thought-provoking themes of war and peace, memory and forgetting, the private and the collective. Critically acclaimed for the surprising contrast between the material and the themes of the sculpture, The Softness of Iron presents a collection replete with personal content that intersects with collective memories.

Ben-Ami takes simple images from the immediate environment such as clothing, books, and furniture to invoke an emotional and cultural history told from a young girl’s point of view. Removed from their natural environment, Ben-Ami’s sculptures of man-made objects undergo a material and contextual transformation, yet they remain evocative of the broader human experience.

“Her works express geniality and irony,” writes art historian Alessandro Masi, “a surprising contrast between the material and the subject, since the artist uses a material as hard and difficult to work with as iron to describe such lightness.”

About the artist

Nearly a decade ago, Orna Ben-Ami had a career as a reporter and news editor with Israel’s national radio. At age 35 she began her art studies in jewelry design working with silver and gold at Jerusalem’s Technological Training Center.

According to Ben-Ami, the shift was not so surprising. She believes that journalism naturally led her to become an artist, because she considers it creative work that made her very much involved in the world around her. “I always expressed myself in writing,” she remarks, “and now I am trying to do it with material.”

Ben-Ami transitioned to studying sculpture while at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, D.C., and Tel Aviv University. The artist resisted issues of contemporary sculpture and artistic discourse instead learning her craft in the workshop. Now at age 53, and working in a renovated hen house turned art gallery, Ben-Ami is internationally recognized as a technically gifted and insightful sculptress of iron.

Her solo exhibitions have included the Museum of Contemporary Israeli Art in Ramat Gan, Kimball Art Center in Park City, Utah, and the Center of Contemporary Art and Dante Alighieri in Rome, Italy. Ben-Ami also recently represented Israel in the United Nations’ Contemporary International Art Exhibition held in Geneva, Switzerland.

This installation of The Softness of Iron: Sculptures by Orna Ben-Ami at Washington University School of Medicine was funded by an anonymous donation. The faculty member responsible for bringing the exhibit to campus was Carl Frieden, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. The touring exhibit was organized by International Arts & Artists and was made possible by the generous support of the Office of Cultural Affairs at the Consulate General of Israel in New York. IA&A thanks Reba Wulkan and the Yeshiva University Art Museum for collaboration in the initiation of this exhibition.

You can visit the artist’s web site at