I will be participating in the Salon ha Cubia exhibit opening October 28, 2017, at 8 pm in Nayot in Jerusalem, as part of the city-wide Manofim project. Closing January 25, 2018. Hope to see you there. Invitation

Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. For details see post

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"Crimson Peels" at the Jerusalem Print Workshop

"Once 1" 2011 woodcut 34 x 36 cm by Hilla Ben Ari
Who’s afraid of Feminist Art?  Quite a lot of people, it seems. Artists who are women find themselves often caught in a double bind- on the one hand they compete against their artist brethren in a male-dominated art world  and, on the other hand, when exhibiting on their own, or pursuing subject matter from their own perspective as women,  are marginalized. In the age of post-feminism, many new artists and audiences are repelled by the term, if not the content, displaying what seems to me at times to be an allergic reaction to the eight–letter Word Whose Sound We Dare Not Say.

In her review of the major feminist exhibits of 2007 for ArtForum magazine, Carol Armstrong asks:

“WHY ARE WOMEN so angry? What do women want? Why can't a woman be more like a man? Can a man be a feminist? Why have there been no great women artists? Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf? What is feminism? What is art? Is feminist art "art"? Is feminist art great art? Is art by women artists feminist art? Is feminist art women's art? How many feminists does it take to screw in a lightbulb? Do feminists have a sense of humor? Can women be funny? (No, but we can be hysterical.) Do we have permanent PMS? Is a woman born, or is she made? Is she nature, or is she culture? Is she a victim of the species or just of society? Is she a sex, or is she a gender? Is hers an identity or a performance, a construction or an essence, an excess or an absence? Have we come a long way, baby, or no distance at all? Are we now the first or the second sex? (And just how many sexes are there?) Which came first, the woman or the egg? How many feminists can dance on the head of a pin? Can anything else be said by and about women other than that throughout history we, collectively and individually, have been raped, abused, and punished, confined, marginalized, and excluded, dominated and dehumanized, objectified, othered, and orientalized, invented, imprisoned in stereotype, and made invisible? And that this is our inevitable fate under the never-ending, self-reproducing ideological order of patriarchy and phallocracy? And what does art have to do with any of these questions? Why art, in fact? Why feminist art? Why bother?”

This territory, as she points out, is fraught with pit holes. Though women comprise more than 50 percent of the planet, and, typically, the vast majority of tuition-paying BFA and MFA students,  the “glass ceiling” of the art world in the Twenty-First century  remains impervious. 
The  Guerilla Girlsactivists who questioned access for women artists, achieved limited success but, high level achievements remain top-heavy with whom they call “the white guys.”  Somehow less of a legitimate pursuit to see the world through their subjective experiences as women,  when women artists address issues from their outlook as women,  the art is labeled feminist and typically relegated to a separate dimly lit corner of the art world. And in the local context, as shown here by David Sperber (in Hebrew), the tag “feminist” only relatively recently became a desirable adjective for artists.
Yashar Ali, in his article "A Message to Women from a Man: You are Not Crazy" explores the underlying societal phenomenon which he calls “gaslighting” – a term borrowed from the language of psychologists referring to the practice of taking normal well-adjusted people and denying their  assessment of reality - as being in some way questionable or off-base – causing them to lose confidence in their instincts, sometimes to the point of doubting their own sanity.
 “As far as I am concerned, the epidemic of gaslighting is part of the struggle against the obstacles of inequality that women constantly face. Acts of gaslighting steal their most powerful tool: their voice. This is something we do to women every day, in many different ways.”

If true of contemporary society at large, it is also true for the artist. When leaving the gallery talk for the exhibit “Crimson Peels” I happened upon a male art colleague from a shared nude model group of prior years. I asked him if he saw the exhibit and what he thought. “It's bullshit – I would do a woman’s body completely differently.” No doubt he would. Which is precisely the point.

The exhibit, “Crimson Peels,” is part of the project Manofim, a city–wide month of activities opening the art exhibition season in Jerusalem. Shown at the Jerusalem Print Workshop, the venue is located on the seam of many worlds. Housed in a beautiful stone building dating from the Ottoman empire on the juncture between the Street of the Prophets and the Tribes of Israel Street, it sits on the intersection of what used to be No Man’s Land during Jordanian rule from 1948-67, the edge of the ultra-orthodox Meah Shearim neighborhood, next to the gentrifying neighborhood of Morasha (Musrara) with its many cultural activities and within view of  Suleiman’s walls of the Old City. A fairly recent renovation resulted in a spacious street-level gallery and the exhibit continues upstairs so one must wind through the work rooms and presses to the original gallery of the workshop under its peaked roof.

Nomi Tannhauser, project initiator and curator, states in the exhibit's attractive catalogue:

“The external gaze constantly examining the woman has, in many ways, been assimilated as an internal gaze, while the desire to experience the body as hermetic and confined has turned into a need of the women themselves. Many women are uncomfortable in their own bodies, perhaps due to the irreconcilable gap between the ideal of beauty flooding us from every direction and the individual physique.”

The exhibit title, “Crimson Peels” derives from a  Talmudic reference to a miscarriage. Tannhauser suggested at the gallery talk that it is meant to focus on taking the internal of the body and displaying it on the outside,  with inner feelings as well as physiology  revealed and considered. So, one might well ask, does that mean that there will be blood? No, thankfully, little in the way of drippy bits to view, and certainly less involved with blood than a typical art exhibit on contemporary politics- when no one objects. But, the colors red and pink do predominate more than, say, at an exhibit of landscapes. 

Jenifer Bar Lev, Hilla Ben Ari, Nomi Bruckmann,  Rakefet Viner-Omer,  Orna Bromberg,  Noa Sadka, and Nomi Tannhauser were invited to work at the Workshop and  over the course of two years created eighty new prints in their experimentation with the techniques of etching, screenprint and woodcut. The exhibit is rounded out with works by the artists in other media, but the catalogue includes only those of print-making. They range from the delightfully thought-provoking and challenging  to some that made me wince for their chosen "bad art" style, a decision entirely au courant, but one which leaves me indifferent.

"Patience 2011" 20ll screenprint 42 x 30 cm by Jenifer Bar Lev
U.S.-born Bar-Lev, a graduate of Parsons School of Design and the Avni Institute displays prints which contrast the constraining and painful women’s accoutrements of practitioners of sado-masochism with the sentimental characteristics stereotypically attributed to women. The terms, such as grace and trust, juxtaposed with the straps, corsets and harnesses concretizes the split between what women can be subjected to and what is expected of them. The words, etched in lower-case English in a feminine cursive, as well as references to tattoo art and song titles (in another piece) are meant to connect to the wider world through popular culture. Some of the contraptions are an easy stretch to mainstream fashion trends, which fashionistas might want to ponder.

"Looking Sideways" 2011, screenprint 76 x 56 cm by Nomi Bruckman
Bruckman, best known for her self-portraits which emphasize every nook and cranny of her naturally aging face, displays  views of women’s bodies that are more soft-focused, vague and sometimes verging on the abstract. Jerusalem-born Bruckman studied art in École Supérieure des Arts Modernes, Paris; School of Visual Arts, New York; Brooklyn Museum Art School, New York and The Jerusalem Studio for Figurative Art. In these amorphous and organic forms, she seeks to convey an idea of woman that is un-hampered by Western influences and is pre-historic in view. Some of the images do bring to mind the wide-hipped goddesses of ancient cultural artifacts. Examples of some of her sensitive oil studies for self-portraits are displayed in the upper gallery.

"Female Metabolism" 2011, soft ground and aquatint 69.5 x 88 cm by Nomi Tannhauser
Tannhauser, also a participating artist in this show, is American- born and educated at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and the Leeds University Israel extension. She shows a number of accomplished etchings, some of which, as a reflection on society’s obsessions, focus on her chest area with varying cloth coverings and bared. In “Feminine Metabolism” she displays her internalization of her print-making experiences merging as part of her inner world and her outer world – saying that everything is felt through her body. Also displayed are some of her self-portraits done on materials she expects will have a short shelf life, composed of cardboard and plastalina (a children's modeling dough). She finds it liberating to work in a material whose life will unlikely outlast her own, making the creative experience less precious. Her intention, she says, is to communicate with her contemporaries, not with future generations. See them while you can.

Photographer Noa Sadka shows etchings which are dependent on type-written text to address the queasy and odd in a woman’s world, with little more than simple doodle-like markings resulting in a spare and minimal aesthetic. Orna Bromberg relies on icons she has created over her long career to evoke a girl’s view of a colorful but potentially threatening world as represented by a butterfly. Hila Ben-Ari shows a lithe figure, an acrobat–like image suspended between  earth and  sky. Her  movements are ostensibly free-flowing yet artificially limited, her position broadcasts confidence but is vulnerable, perhaps also being caught between in an internal fantasy and reality - are we voyeurs to a performance in a circus, in a gymnasium or in a dream? Rakefet Viner-Omer shows etchings which are visually uncomfortable and meant to evoke graffiti-influenced  semi-androgynous images, some of whose  forms barely  rise above stick figures, in keeping with the  backlash to virtuosity current in some circles. 

This exhibit, overall, broadens the dialogue of viewing the female body - as felt and seen through female eyes.

Through end of January, closing date not set, catalogue (photography: Shlomo Serry)

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Heddy. Lots to chew over. Especially of interest to me in light of my l'Origine project...