Shafir continued her studies at the Art Academy in Zagreb, Croatia before emigrating in 1949, at the age of 25, to the coastal town of Ashkelon in Israel. She processed the incomprehensible Holocaust and the loss of her extended family with pen and ink, drawing portraits of arriving immigrants. When her sadness was exhausted, Shafir began to explore the beautiful physicality of her new country, both in watercolor and mosaics. The two media are an unlikely pairing. Shafir's watercolors are ethereal creations of opulent gardens and fantastical creatures. She started with a mono print of abstract stains and drew over the field of colors independent of their abstract shapes until distinct images emerged and every spot of color was defined. It is an unforgiving process that allows no corrections. Shafir credits her years of working in watercolor with providing her the confidence she required to develop her intuitive method of working in mosaic.
At 87, Shafir still travels the world teaching her spontaneous method, encouraging students to discover unexpected solutions. In October, the Association of International Mosaic Artists and the municipality of Ravenna, Italy will honor Shafir with a solo exhibition at the Biblioteca Classense. This is tantamount to ordaining her the matriarch of contemporary mosaic. The poet Yossi Gamzou said, "there are people with hearts of stone and there are stones with human hearts." Ilana Shafir has given heart to an ancient craft. In her powerful hands it has become a modern art.