Artists: Israeli, 1970 to the Present
During the 1970s, women artists in Israel attained more appreciation, and with the phenomenon of equal opportunity that emerged, female art was introduced into Israeli culture as being of equal value. While many women artists denied the existence of feminine aspects in their works in the 1970s, some declaredly feminist women artists were active in the country. In the 1980s, the feminine artistic voice was strengthened, with some women artists using “feminine” techniques such as embroidery or stitching. Women artists increasingly incorporated the human figure in their works, which had virtually disappeared from Israeli painting. By the end of the millennium, gender was no longer a relevant factor for the acceptance of women artists in Israel, and today many women have great influence in the Israeli art world.
Israeli Art in the 1970s
The 1970s were a conceptual and political period in Israeli art. Art during these years expressed the plural form—of the nation, the society, and of modern art. At the same time, women artists attained more and more appreciation and presence. The mass entry of women artists into the Israeli art arena occurred during this decade. Women artists who had been active during previous decades, such as Lea Nikel, Aviva Uri, Siona Shimshi (b. 1935), Tova Berlinski (b. 1922), Hava Mehutan (b. 1925), Ruth Schloss (b. 1922), Alima (b. 1932), Nora and Naomi, Hannah Levy (b. circa 1920), Rahel Shavit Bentwich (b. 1929) and others, held important solo exhibitions.
Leading artists such as Moshe Gershuni and Raffi Lavie spoke publicly about the profound influence of Aviva Uri’s oeuvre on their work. Lavie had become a most influential figure in Israeli art life in the early 1960s. His influence contributed to the entry of young women artists such as Michal Na’aman, Deganit Berest, Efrat Natan (b. 1947) and Tamar Getter into the local art world.
Despite the prestige attained by women artists, there were very few manifestations of femininity in the plastic art of those years. Many women artists denied the existence of feminine aspects in their works, even though in their art such aspects had both presence and significance. In the late 1970s, Sarah Breitberg-Semmel, one of the most prominent curators in the Israeli art world, even wrote: “There is Israeli art and there are women artists, but the combination of the two has no practical meaning.” It may be the case that women artists who engaged explicitly with themes of sexual identity, confusion of the sexes, and androgynous identities maintained this consensus of denial for fear of interpretative reduction of their works to the feminine factor alone.
Nevertheless, some declaredly feminist women artists were also active in the country. The most prominent of them was Miriam Sharon. Her means of expression, and those of the women artists whose works she curated, were patiently hand-crafted works in the tradition of women and projects that aspired to draw an extra-artistic public closer to feminism, ecological ideas and art. These works resolutely conveyed the feminist message with regard to the suppression of woman in society. The art establishment tended to reject this model of feminist art as tendentious.
Yocheved Weinfeld and Efrat Natan were accepted and appreciated by the art establishment, through art that expressed a feminine bodily “self” in performances and in Body Art. Yocheved Weinfeld expressed herself in photography and performances, made use of images of childbirth and religious rituals, and engaged with questions of identity and with feminine sensitivities. The conflicts that she emphasized in her works, as well as the means she employed, were taken up by young women artists who were influenced by her. Efrat Natan, too, put on performances in which she used herself and her own body to express feminist, social and political criticism. An interesting and significant success was that of Bianca Eshel-Gershuni, who created unusual items of jewelry in which she combined noble materials with cheap materials during the Minimalist and Conceptual period in Israel, thus opposing the “Poverty of Material” orientation that characterized Israeli art at the time. Aviva Uri, Yehudit Levin, Tamar Getter, Nurit David and Michal Na’aman were among its representatives, and their art avoided traits of feminine gender.
The 1980s brought a change in the collective and security consciousness of Israeli society. This was a congenial background for the absorption of artistic trends that focused on biographical elements and personal modes of expression, including the treatment of woman as a subject, not only as an artist or an object. The “thin” Minimalist or Conceptualist art made way for painting and sculpture that were figurative or entailed various degrees of abstraction.
While Lea Nikel continued developing her rich abstract work, Batia Grossbard (1910–1995) painted with an affinity to American Abstract Expressionism. She juxtaposed smooth color planes with aggressive brush splashes and created huge diptychs. Liliane Klapisch’s painting evolved from the abstract of the 1950s in France, with an affinity to classical art and to observation of nature. With candor and directness, Nora Frenkel (1931–1995) exposed her existential anxiety and dread as influenced by her terminal illness, painting hundreds of self-portraits documenting her face’s progress towards loss of beauty and disintegration.
Pamela Levi represented the “Return to Painting”—a traditionally masculine genre—in painting that was deliberately rigid and lacking in grace, while the younger Eti Jacobi, who also joined this “Return,” related primarily to art, and painted with ease, attractiveness and a certain degree of alienation. The large brushstrokes and the decisive forms in the paintings of Yehudit Levin were seen in their historical connection with the masculine—expressive and geometric—abstract. The broad paint smears of Smadar Eliasaf, too, were linked to the heroic tradition of the expressive abstract, and as with the works of Yehudit Levin, only a second viewing revealed how delicate they were.
The sculptures of Sigal Primor (b. 1961) and Drora Dominey, in metal and heavy wood and in rigid geometrical forms, as well as those of Dalia Meiri (b. 1951) in basalt stones and of Tamara Rikman (b. 1943) in aluminum and stainless steel, were similarly connected to a stereotype of masculinity. In Primor’s work the feminine content was concealed in codes. Masculine momentum and feminine introversion existed side-by-side in her works as complementary qualities. A sex–death tension entered Dominey’s works through motifs of division and parting between masculine and feminine representations. Meiri’s sculptures were located between the archaic and the technologically sophisticated, between the cultural and the pre-cultural. In the memorial sites that she erected, Meiri emphasized the theme of devotion and sacrifice for land and place. Rikman’s sculptures were based on Minimalist aesthetics, defined forms and industrial materials. Penny Yassour designed condensed sculptural elements that recalled architectonic bodies, or mazes positioned on the ground to create a kind of industrial space that she described as mental maps. Ofra Zimbalista dealt with the theme of death and the extinction of the spirit in the body, in sculptures that were made from body molds of her acquaintances. She erected installations and sculptures of groups of people in transitional situations, hanging and climbing, seeking their place and their serenity, in many public places in Israel. Nora and Naomi combined tradition with contemporary symbolism in their large-scale sculptures. Siona Shimshi led the inclusion of ceramic work as a legitimate art genre of equal value to other means of plastic expression.
The feminine-artistic voice that made itself heard effectively in those years expressed a social criticism stemming from a much more emotional source than had hitherto been expressed in Israeli art, but still without any feminine aspects. Aviva Uri employed visual signs of holocaust, disintegration, explosion, void and death. The “Requiem” in her work designated a transition from a world in which the pure spiritual was present, to a reality dominated by darkness, heaviness and mourning, an atomic or ecological holocaust. Mina Sisselman, with an acute sensitivity that burst beyond the close, immediate radius, responded with an equal degree of involvement to the revolutions in eastern Europe, the ecological dangers threatening the globe, and the Lebanon War.
Hava Mehutan, pained by the socio-political situation, the materialism and the acquisitiveness, the Lebanon War and the futility of wars in general, created conceptual environmental works whose disintegration and reintegration into nature were a part of her protest. During this period, Nora and Naomi’s engagement with sources, with nature and with the local soil also touched upon traumatic events experienced by the entire nation and offered a fresh point of view about Zionism and Judaism.
Siona Shimshi created series of large figures that bluntly conveyed social messages. Tamar Raban founded the performance medium in Israel and passed on the knowledge and experience she had accumulated to new performance artists. Her first performances contained distinct local-political content. Pamela Levi, after the Lebanon War, felt a need to express the human condition by means of the human figure, which in that period had virtually disappeared from Israeli painting. Joyce Schmidt believed in the purity of paper created originally from the fibers of local plants, and made the paper a moral subject and object. Mirit Cohen expressed deep pain and a cry for help in a series of drawings titled “Mind Script,” and in expressive incisions.
In the 1980s, a number of women artists set up formal “feminine” frameworks, such as the canvas as a work of embroidery or stitching in the works of Naomi Simantov, Nurit David and Jenifer Bar-Lev, whose creations also incorporated an interaction between text and textile.
Tamar Getter, Deganit Berest and Michal Na’aman set up feminine models as subjects of reference and as models for identification. Michal Heiman enlarged newspaper photographs of both famous and anonymous women, adding captions about them. Michal Na’aman, Diti Almog, Sigal Primor and Eti Jacobi designated a feminine presence in their works, from which the signified—the woman—was absent. Michal Na’aman treated the question of sexual identity by creating androgynous creatures that simultaneously challenge stereotypes of both femininity and masculinity. She also dealt with connections between blindness and castration and between text and visual image.
The “Women’s Presence” exhibition curated by Ellen Ginton at the Tel Aviv Museum in 1990 marked the beginning of an open and wide-ranging female and feminine discourse in Israeli art. Seventy-one women artists who had never before defined their work as “feminine” participated in the exhibition.
In the 1990s women’s art established itself firmly in Israel. The large number of successful and appreciated women artists demonstrated the centrality of the feminine presence in local art. Several group exhibitions of women artists, which dealt in depth with various aspects of femininity, were held in Israel. A number of women artists attained international success, and some of them moved the base for their activities to Europe or the United States. These included Michal Rovner, Diti Almog, Sigal Primor, Bracha Ettinger, Yehudit Sasportas and Sigalit Landau. Women artists worked with an awareness of the format of the painting as a work surface and as a basis for the presentation of their artistic statements about their identities as artists and as women.
Women artists updated and rewrote feminine identity. They grappled with social molds, with female characteristics and with woman’s body as material, as a sex object and as a field of action, with woman’s place in society in her struggle for her identity in the world and in her battle against firmly rooted images and dictates, the ideas and the stereotypes associated with her. Yehudit Levin, who had formerly presented narrative figurative images in which the gender of the figures was indistinct, now, in the 1990s, painted distinctively female figures. The princess-like figures in their red dresses burst out from the canvas and the transitions between transparency and opacity hinted at their various limbs and organs. Michal Na’aman painted with a rich and many-layered materiality, sophisticated verbal puns, intellectual riddles, intentional interchanges between masculine and feminine. In Diti Almog’s paintings much importance was given to the seductiveness and sensual charm of the painting. She proposed an analogy between woman and the work of art, as eluding the male attempt to comprehend her/its nature and value. Hilla Lulu Lin presented her own world of fantasies and nightmares, from a personal-feminine point of view, in ritualistic, theatrical acts entailing injuries to her bared body, and sensual poems in a font and with rules that she developed for her own style. Miriam Cabessa imprinted her body on the surface of the work or urinated like a man; the traces of the act were the painting. This was a parody of the female models that men had created throughout history. Tova Lotan and Tamara Messel used photography to focus on the female body, on sexual identity and on various manifestations of femininity and its implications—beauty, seduction, the surface and what lies beneath it. Osnat Rabinovitch used “masculine” work tools like a carpenter; her delicate pieces of furniture looked stable and enclosed large spaces, but were in fact fragile. Michal Shamir’s choice of simple and perishable materials constituted something of a feminine remonstration against the massive iron constructions that had become imprinted on the Israeli mind as “correct” masculine sculpture. She created a gender tension by incorporating objects considered to be “feminine” and by using sentences in a feminine-dependent sense. Yehudit Sasportas employed smooth carpentry work to create sculptural works that were hybrids of objects engendered out of the domestic environment but with their functionality neutralized. In this way she undermined the picture of the home and of a normal world, and told of a personal and a cultural loss.
The women artists who constituted the next generation of artists working in pottery—among them Varda Yatom and Lidia Zavadsky with her large pots that were actually very powerful sculptures, like Yatom in her sculptures—reminded the public that pottery, the language they expressed themselves in, was originally a masculine craft that requires physical strength and high technical skill. They saw a challenge in giving new content to this charged, cultural and firmly established ancient language.
Unlike them, a large number of the older women artists who continued to create and develop, such as Lea Nikel, Liliane Klapisch, Batia Grossbard, Mina Sisselman, Hannah Levy, Siona Shimshi and others, as well as several younger artists, saw themselves as artists and humans, and rejected any gender perspective with regard to their work.
Women artists engaged in research and critical writing as part of their artistic practice. The theoretical writing of Bracha Ettinger was connected with her painting and reexamined the description of the female mechanisms and structures—structures that had been perceived by Freud and Lacan as derivatives of masculine sexuality. Other women artists wrote important essays for catalogs and periodicals: Tamar Getter, Nurit David, Naomi Simantov and others.
Multi-cultural, intellectual, scientific and research-oriented approaches characterized the works of Deganit Berest, Tamar Getter, Michal Heiman and Dorit Feldman. Berest’s paintings, influenced by mathematical and physical theories, attested to her belief in the connection between science, art and philosophy. Heiman, turning the viewer into the patient being diagnosed, dealt with the point of contact between psychology and the museum, and with the essence of the image and of identity. Getter investigated the possibility of a constructive representation of an irrational world of images, and created classical contexts by juxtaposing charged Israeli motifs with quotations from Renaissance masters. Feldman incorporated into her work various fields such as anatomy, physics, geology and archaeology, which in her view work together in harmony in art as in nature. The works of Bracha Ettinger gave expression to intensive research and expertise in psychoanalysis, feminism, history, language, and the process of image formation.
To a large extent, the feminist and critical theories became integrated into Israeli art and culture. This made possible a more emotional art, connected to everyday life. Many engaged in exposure, even in confession: exposures of childhood, relations between parents and children, and anxieties connected with motherhood. Some of the women artists formulated various representations of feminine identity by means of contemporary realistic painting, incorporating into their works direct or indirect statements of their individual view of reality and of their identity as women in Israel.
The women artists’ choice of figurative representation entailed a danger of recycling the discriminatory images that create a seductive object for the masculine gaze. However, because they were aware, the women artists subverted the analogy, and offered art that is not merely an object. They employed humor, mostly of a grotesque kind, and self-reflexive irony. They also discussed the “other,” the stranger. They created a visual art that speaks about the need for sensuality, touch and aesthetic pleasure.
Feminist approaches were replaced by personal and autobiographical works that often also served as points of departure for political statements. In the 1990s the socially and politically involved emotional-feminine voice found expression in a clear and assertive femininity. Mirjam Bruck-Cohen, for example, embroidered images of Palestinian towns and villages or images of her experience as a refugee from World War II. Meira Shemesh, too, made use of autobiographical materials. She created a tribute to the woman who had preceded her, who had decorated her life with cheap objects of artificial beauty. Her sensitive, avowedly feminine works and her concepts of ornate beauty were an expression of the “Eastern taste” with which she had grown up, a value to which she accorded legitimacy, while at the same time expressing both social and self-criticism. Employing realism and classical techniques, Haya Graetz-Ran expressed the myths of sacrifice and the need to suffer in order to give meaning to life, which were an inseparable part of the values on which she and other girls born at the time of the State of Israel’s establishment had been educated. Ofra Zimbalista’s hard feelings as a mother and a woman in a society that does not save its children from wars were a trigger for many of her works. Tamar Raban created and presented personal-autobiographical performances that evinced feminist and political influences. In Sigalit Landau’s works, the weak and the “other” became parts of her “self.” In terms of the Israeli reality, she was a Palestinian; in the gender reality she was a woman, in the social reality she was the foreign worker, the immigrant, the homeless. Yehudit Matzkel, who experienced the parting from her son who was drafted into the army as one of tearing and as a painful division between “femininity” and “masculinity,” dealt with the symbiotic connection between a mother and her son, the pre-Oedipal state in which the two of them are a single entity. Adina Bar-On expressed the abstraction of the word by means of her body. Varda Yatom’s sculptures in ceramic materials were concrete symbols of human anxieties in a painful reality. She engaged in journeys of wandering and in the eternal quest for both personal and collective identity, from its cultural and ethical sources, via the Israeli and Canaanite identity and concluding with the universal-Jewish identity.
Marilou Levin treated femininity as a subject that was close to herself, not as a manifesto. She expressed the disparities between femininity as an almost heroic concept and the everyday reality of female existence. She presented woman as rebel, on the face of it aware of the feminist revolt, but also in conflict with the obedience and submissiveness of the well-brought-up good girl.
In the 1990s women artists brought about a transformation in the status of women’s handicrafts—such as sewing, embroidery, weaving, colorful ornamentation and even kitsch—raising them to equality in the hierarchy of the canonical artistic materials and means of expression, while proposing their own distinctive, feminine and postmodern approaches to the genre. Bianca Eshel-Gershuni’s consistent, sophisticated and manipulative use of materials identified as feminine kitsch was a daring breakthrough and a model for younger women artists in whose works her influence is discernible.
The works of Jenifer Bar-Lev were canvases that contained text and ornaments incorporated by means of demanding stitch work, and dealt with stories connected to the female world of sewing, to her own personal world, and to the world of art and artists. A clean geometrical aesthetics repeatedly emphasized feminist messages. The meticulous coloring in the oil paintings of Tal Matzliah was reminiscent of folkloristic handicrafts that involve patience, unglamorous work and total dedication. In this discipline she expressed hard and forthright messages of struggle for survival against obsessions with sex and eating, which could at last be spoken about with a sense of freedom. Naomi Simantov offered meticulous, industrious painting that imitated various weave patterns. In a manner similar to the act of weaving, she painted ornamental patterns of carpets with a fine brush. Talia Tokatly gave voice to girls and young women by incorporating in her embroideries the Hebrew words for “vessel” and “voice” as charged words in the discourse on femininity. In the works of Meira Shemesh a distinctive feminine expression was evident in the slow, patient and precise material touch, the artist demanding of herself a strict regime of work with vulnerable and brittle materials.
Dorit Yacoby (b. 1952) worked in a different way, but one that was also connected to the dedication and patience of a woman “doing craft.” Her works were at times built over several years, layer upon layer, and incorporated fragmented objects. Through the figure of woman she expressed her freedom and her ability to fly or to risk falling, to attain new experiences of redemption in a new firmament, to free herself of impurity. The soul’s self-extrication from the material that surrounds it—the body: that is the sacrificial victim’s way of coming closer to God.
The phenomenon of equal opportunity that emerged in the 1970s led, over the years, to an ever more conscious presence of women artists in the Israeli art world. The postmodern blurring of distinctions between high and low made it possible to propose an artistic analogy to women’s crafts. In this way the women artists expropriated women’s work from its instrumental, perishable and altruistic purpose, and eternized it in artistic activity that was aesthetic, in purpose, communicative, and self-aware. Together with the modes of work developed by male creative power, female art was introduced into Israeli culture as being of equal value.
Besides the creative domains, the massive involvement of women in the Israeli art world also encompassed the major bases of influence: the domain of curatorship—in museums, galleries, and as independent curators; and the domain of writing—criticism, theory and research. By the end of the millennium gender was no longer a relevant factor for the acceptance or rejection of women artists in Israel, and indeed today they are many in number and their influence is great, in a rich expression of the diversity of women’s voices.
Sources: Essays in exhibition catalogs and review articles from the press, by:
Sarah Breitberg-Semmel, Dana Gilerman, Ellen Ginton, Ruti Direktor, Kobi Harel, Ofer Ze’evi, Tami Katz-Freiman, Itamar Levi, Haim Maor, Rivka Meir, Dalia Menor, Yehudit Revah, Tali Rosin, Ro’ee Rosen, Smadar Shefi, Hadara Shaflan-Katzav.
In the late 1980s Diti Almog (b. Israel, 1959) exhibited paintings dealing with the destruction of “the reality effect,” with representation of the impossibility of representing, with presenting the act of depiction as a collection of stratagems. In her paintings much stress was laid on the seductive and sensual charm of painting.
In the early 1990s Almog painted patterns of women’s clothes, proposing an analogy between woman and the art work as eluding any masculine, as-it-were objective attempt to determine her qualities and her worth. Here Almog touched on the reflexive relations present in the act of acquiring an art work, giving prominence to the latter’s “female” quality of beautifying and glorifying its possessor.
In later works Almog reduced the number of formal components and presented panels of plywood painted black, on which she painted glittering pieces of jewelry that seemed to be cushioned in black velvet, arousing associations of female sexuality. By “stitching” white thread into the panel she created a division into geometrical areas. The result was a sterile beauty, lacking vitality or sensuality. While in the previous works she had dealt with relations between woman and her possessor, in these works the “woman” stood on her own, opposite herself, with a cold and proud façade, and only the stitches inside her bore silent evidence of the pain and the price that she pays for her beauty.
After studying design in New York, Jenifer Bar-Lev (b. United States, 1948; immigrated in 1975) arrived in Israel and engaged in designing fashion textiles. Bar-Lev’s first canvases contained texts and dealt with stories connected to the feminine world of sewing. Her next works extended these boundaries and dealt with American life, with her private world, and with the world of art and artists.
Her works are ornamental and decorative, containing words, ideas, allusions, barbs and witticisms—a sophisticated harmony of content and form, a clean, geometrical aesthetics with a strong tendency to symmetry. Her sources of inspiration were pattern paintings from American folk art (patchwork), Mexican and Native American art, stained-glass windows, Russian Constructivism, and Pop Art that made use of the printed letter as a message and a texture. Bar-Lev integrated sets of geometrical patterns with writing reminiscent of fragments from a private diary, impressions and memories of childhood, but also some almost Surrealist texts. The viewer-reader was invited to an intellectual and experiential journey, through the history of art, with references to literature, poetry, cinema and performance art. The texts, written in English, were printed in stenciled letters and tended to obey the rules of structure dictated by the forms: they are broken apart, separated and re-organized into other forms. Not infrequently the viewer encounters parts of words or even isolated letters that one has to recombine into a continuous sequence of text.
In the early 1990s Bar-Lev held an exhibition in which she once again emphasized feminist messages. As a metaphor for a woman—“All glorious is the king’s daughter within the palace” (Psalms 45:14)—she built an exhibition in a room, which revolved around three circles: needlework and fabric as a “low” feminine characteristic in contrast to oil painting as a “high” masculine characteristic, low (“feminine”) folk art in contrast to the (“masculine”) intellectual and psychologistic implanted in the works, and the writing of dreams as a feminine and intimate personal writing, in contrast to the biblical text, which appeared here for the first time in her work, characterizing masculine writing.
The performance works of Adina Bar-On (b. Israel, 1951) were sequences of movements that she executed with her face and body while relating to the audience and the space in which she performed. The gesture—her language of communication —remained open to the viewer’s interpretation.
In the early 1970s, on the background of the conceptual atmosphere and concurrently with the rise of the performance arts, Bar-On, then a student at Bezalel, began groping for a way to abstract the word by means of her body. Her first performances, inspired by the cinematic works of Fellini, Godard and Buñuel, were influenced by their psychologistic ideas and unique visual conceptions. She directed, moved, danced, acted and revealed her emotions, while the viewers to a large extent determined what she did, and it was their interpretations that built the plot.
In the early 1990s Adina Bar-On and her husband Daniel Davis put on a multi-media performance: a video film, huge pots, voice, movement and music. The performance presented a number of time-lines that moved in a cyclicality and a circularity emphasized by rounded objects, such as the wheels of a burial cart, rounded pots, plates, and the wheel of the sun that rose and set during the time of the performance. During the entire performance a soundless video film was screened—filmed by Bar-On. The actions in the film repeated themselves and created an inner rhythm similar to Bar-On’s dance movements in the performance. Her children represented life, and pushed a burial cart that symbolized death. The film presented a time-line of a single day—from dawn to night—and created a connection between life and art.
In her art work, which began in the 1970s, Deganit Berest (b. Israel, 1949) made use of photographs and of elements that mediate between her and the art work. Berest used her raw materials as images and signs, which she processed with the aid of devices and conventions from the fields of journalism, graphic art and literature. Images drawn from low contexts became an artistic composition with characteristics of scientific inquiry and search. Berest enlarged common images in a way that created vagueness, blurring and a transformation of the legible and familiar.
In the 1980s Berest created paintings dealing with man-world relations and with man’s struggle to understand the world, with sea and landscape functioning as his metaphors. The guiding principle in this period was the use of a reservoir of schematic signs of variegated forms charged with suggestive meanings. Her paintings were influenced by mathematical and physical theories, which attested to her belief in the connection between science, art and philosophy on the one hand, and systems whose terms are transformable, on the other: expressing things in one sphere in terms taken from another sphere. Science, for her, is a kind of formula, an abstract pattern that aims to impose some kind of organization on the chaos of nature, a way of exposing the world’s structured nature, and thereby to touch its beauty and its magic.
Her use of aspects originally attributed to women, such as working with repetitive patterns, together with conceptual aspects that are considered masculine, such as scientific theories, created an androgynous model, which was declared as such by the artist.
In an exhibition of her works in the late 1990s, “The Montageuse or Broken Telephone,” Berest dealt with the more revealing and erotic side of her work. A systematic process connected with the motif of blurring-camouflage-mask continued to appear in her work in various ways and expressed an opposition to a cataloguing of identity according to a ready recipe, the freedom entailed in choosing to stem from a system that would be defined after the event, in which the methodical, analytical, rational dimension is part of her personal composition of what is feminine, masculine, Israeli.
Miriam Cabessa (b. Morocco, 1966; immigrated in 1969) began her artistic path in the early 1990s. Her images, which were painted in a process of movement, through action and an inner rhythm, created a language of signs similar to techniques that had been developed by the Surrealists. Unlike them, however, Cabessa made herself the subject of her paintings by involving her body in the work process and created images that express what was happening inside. These looked like X-rays that reflected ultimate female images possessing great power. In this way Cabessa created a language in which she expressed the writing of her own body, a body that knows its own rhythm, libido and eroticism. On the face of it, Cabessa turned her body into a production line that works automatically, but actually she created voided limbs, hollow tubes, hands seeking a place to hold on to, legs seeking a place to touch, a penetrating view into the inside of the body, slightly obscene, somewhat alienated.
In the early 1970s Mirit Cohen (b. Russia, 1945, died in 1990) worked on heavy, rough wooden panels, which she wounded by incising, drilling and breaking them, at times pasting pieces of paper on them. In opposition to the art conceptions of the time, which saw wood as a surface, Cohen treated wood as equal in value to paint.
In the 1970s her drawings created maps of graphic signs and of words and parts of words. The words functioned as additional components of her drawings and lent them a quivering nervousness. With the aid of the script signs, Mirit Cohen conveyed changing and elusive information through a technique of breaking up the words.
In an installation that she presented, she laid pieces of broken glass and broken floor tiles, tied together with electricity wires, on the gallery floor. In these sharp, cutting works, laden with wires and shards, the artist attempted to group together what looks like a desperate and hopeless attempt at a fusion.
In the fifteen years prior to her suicide in 1990 Cohen lived in New York. During her stay there she held an exhibition in Israel of a series of small drawings titled “Mind Script,” which looked like maps of nerves in a tortured brain.
After her death a retrospective exhibition was held in her memory at the Israel Museum. The artist Joshua Neustein described her as follows: “… She worked with a Dadaistic sensitivity, but brought to art the horror, the religion and the sexual fantasies that she took from her life… Everything broke free and went loose like the web of a spider gone mad. The order of the web became jumbled and the center collapsed.”
From her stay in the Far East—India, Japan and China—and from her art studies there, Maya Cohen-Levy (b. Israel, 1955) absorbed an approach of spontaneity and immediacy within the traditional formats, a use of mathematical patterns with an aspiration to reductiveness, a focus on a single image and subject, and a simple and repetitive composition.
In the early 1980s Cohen-Levy exhibited an expressive painting that depicted an imaginary carnival of lizards with their tails in their mouths. Inside the circular flow produced by the lizard’s movement around itself, the artist created a very powerful focus which, however, unified a number of contrasting points of view. Cohen-Levy’s works dealt with an inscrutable secret. Each of the images was presented in close-up, enlarged and spread out over the surface, for a detailed and systematic representation of its “anatomical” components as they are in nature.
In the early 1990s Cohen-Levy created series that ably demonstrated the precision and the streamlining she had achieved in a long process of reduction both of ideas and of forms. In the “Heart of the Sunflower” series, for example, she created large close-ups of the spiral center that grew from the sides to the center and in the opposite direction. The spiral is considered one of the primary forms of order and harmony in the cosmic code. The “Honeycombs” series was built of an overlapping array of bees’ antennae that were painted repeatedly in various arrangements and degrees of transparency, which turned into crystals and produced the form of a Shield of David from within themselves. Even the “Palms” series, again using a basic form (the palm tree) that is spread out and fills the entire format, while engaging in a scientific and artistic search for order and for control of the energy contained in the form, represents an aspiration to expose the essence.
In the early 1980s Nurit David (b. Israel, 1952) created a series of pictures on plywood panels and wax cloth, in which she integrated motifs from a remote, representative and symbolic world, the fruit of her imagination and her personal world.
In the early 1990s David emphasized the importance of the text in her painting in a different way. In these works she recorded mental and emotional occurrences that arose while being absorbed in the words that built her existence as a human being and spoke about the person/ the parent who contains the works of painting within his body and creates himself in the course of his creative work. In these works she combined various materials and photographs connected with her family, with the aid of which she created painted and written paths that look like cognitive maps of the field of the psyche.
From the mid-1990s on Nurit David created, in oil on canvas, realistic-factual paintings that are rich in images and have a psychological power that crossed to the spiritual and the surrealistic. Whereas in her earlier works her family and biography had been present as an abstract concept, she now brought these onto the canvas. David quoted motifs from her monochrome paintings of the mid-1980s, in a different technique than she had used in the original, and to these she added autobiographical items, using an intimate, everyday touch which was also ritualistic in the way she presented them, which looked as though they were lying in memorial corners. She presenced the place of the written word by means of blank notebooks that were incorporated into the background of the painting and that symbolized the artist’s refraining from speech and from writing because of her aspiration to return to non-verbal contemplation.
When Drora Dominey (b. Israel, 1952) returned to Israel from England in the early 1980s, she became one of the instigators of the breakthrough of the new young sculpture. Her sculpture was an antithesis to the heavy sculpture of stone and “place” that had hitherto been created in Israel. Dominey created light and elegant sculptures of bare wood, at times painted, executed with high skill, alluding to living creatures and furniture/architecture/design elements, influenced by the Bauhaus and De Stihl, based on a long tradition of Constructivist sculpture. The sculptures, done by a woman in a masculine tradition, were a remonstration against what was considered feminine. The sculptured objects were perceived as objects that had had their usefulness taken from them and had been accorded an enigmatic, cold beauty.
Later, a sex-death tension entered Dominey’s works through motifs of splitting and separation between masculine and feminine representations. Masculine impetus and feminine introversion existed side by side in her works as complementary qualities.
In the 1990s she exhibited sculptural objects taken from the image treasury of the “home,” possessing an autobiographical/nostalgic dimension. Dominey broke their functionality by introducing some kind of distortion into each object, and created an estrangement of the viewer’s body through an experience of incorrect size, unpleasant touch, morbidity and awkwardness. The atmosphere was one of cool eroticism and there was a tension between the rounded feminine line and the sharp, straight masculine line, between the formalism/design and the human story, on the one hand, and the artist’s pain and self-examination.
In the mid-1990s Dominey held an anti-sculptural exhibition of old and faded objects, Readymades from the feminine/maternal world of images, with a dualism of story and conceptual idea. Transformation of forms from one sense to another, from a geometrical form to an object or a linguistic sign, is essential for an understanding of her work. The tension between large arches and circles that abound with meanings—pearls, punctuation marks, haloes, bullet holes—is a tension between a form and a symbol, a story. Later on in her work Dominey returned to formalistic construction of large and challenging objects and to the use of unconventional sculptural materials that simultaneously contain images and meanings of a feminine, biographical, and national story.
In the 1970s Smadar Eliasaf (b. Israel, 1952) engaged in photography. The artist Nurit David, in her essay “From Refined Contempt to a Kiss,” pointed to morbid and pessimistic elements in Eliasaf’s photographic works—images blurred to the point that their identity is lost, pieces of broken glass, words functioning as torn scraps of reality.
Eliasaf also gave quasi-poetic names to her large, many-layered, expressive and abstract paintings on canvas, which she began creating in the late 1980s. The large brushstrokes have unraveled edges, which recall the quality of unreality and illusion in her photographs of the 1970s. Her paintings, done on the floor as in Action Painting, and the stains that spread and float over them, recall the American abstract art of the 1950s.
After using strips of sponge, Eliasaf turned to items of personal clothing dipped in paint, which she dragged over the canvas. As a result, the stains seem to be in constant though distant movement. The expressionism, which had been modified by mediators, changed its color from the grays in the early paintings to bold and assertive colorfulness in the 1990s.
Bianca Eshel Gershuni
Bianca Eshel Gershuni (b. Bulgaria, 1932; immigrated in 1939) began making jewelry while still engaged in her sculpture studies. In the late 1970s, The Israel Museum held an exhibition of her jewelry. At the time she was already making unconventional pieces of jewelry, which combined expensive materials such as gold and precious stones with cheap materials, and depicted little scenes. Richness and splendor, imagination and fable characterized the jewelry that she made during the minimalist and conceptualist period in Israel, and went counter to the “poverty of material” approach that characterized Israeli art at the time.
In the early 1980s, after a personal crisis, she began making pieces of jewelry that she called “Fetishes.” These “Fetishes” recalled voodoo rites and the use of black magic. In the mid-1980s Eshel showed her “Mourning Cycle,” which centered on the battle of the sexes and a perception of the world from the depths of the position of the feminine psyche. Her image of woman, man’s eternal victim, was remote and different from a feminist and modern awareness. Her rebellion found expression in weeping and mourning, to express which she used folkloristic elements and quasi-ritualistic objects. Above the image of woman as a victim stood the image of woman as Eve, mother of all humans, sensual and overflowing, and this image determined the character of the work. Another aspect of her work was her use of Christian, pagan and tribal motifs integrated with one another. The spectacular ostentatious abundance of material and creativity in the works expressed Eshel-Gershuni’s distinctive treatment of kitsch, which she harnessed as a means of expression, and used to create a correspondence between the dreamlike, beautifying side of reality and the falsity of the romantic, feminine and idealistic view of man–woman relations. Her manipulative and sophisticated use of materials identified as feminine kitsch was a daring breakthrough for young women artist in whose works her influence is discernible.
From the early 1990s on, Eshel-Gershuni held exhibitions in which the turtle was the central motif. The woman who carries her home on her shoulders is the ideal woman, as bourgeois society attempted to fixate her. The image produced symbolized the cyclicality of Creation, of nature, of life and death. The turtle has a time of its own, and its slowness is both its strength and its weakness, another quality with which the artist identified.
Ramat ha-Sharon, where Dorit Feldman (b. Israel, 1956) studied in the 1970s, with currents of the unification of the cosmic categories (man/nature) already appeared in her first works. The host of images that Feldman employed included formal codes from many cultures that had developed ways of storing information and arriving at simplification and miniaturization while at the same time containing the maximum. From Kabbalistic mysticism and structures, basic forms, trigrams of the Chinese I Ching, or “matrices” (coded squares) of the Mayan culture, to computer chips, DNA molecules and code signs in futuristic orientation—all these served her as very powerful containers of knowledge, as materials for the artist to work with.
Feldman integrated elements from various fields, such as anatomy, physics, geology and archeology. Her skill in working with diverse materials created polished works that were technological in appearance. The horror of technology led Feldman to an optimistic/romantic quest for the mystical blue charm that connects basic forms in nature, science and the human body.
Dorit Feldman’s oeuvre is a wide world of symbols, forms, signs and letters, through which she has studied where human knowledge is to be found and what its sources are, what the power of the form is and whence it draws it, what are the connections between signs from various cultures and from different times. Codes awaiting decipherment and the hidden powers inside them are the force that has motivated Feldman in her persistent endeavor to understand the secrets of Creation.
In the 1970s Tamar Getter (b. Israel, 1953) dealt with monumental topics (such as the Tel-Hai myth) and myths connected with communications and with political and social events. These were placed beside terms from other times and cultures, creating a broad perspective. Getter gave the abstract concept of the heroic myth an emotionally restrained visual expression, influenced by the conception of painting of the early Italian Renaissance. She employed a diversity of spatial conceptions, techniques and approaches, a kind of collage combining classical conventions of representation and conceptual art. The painterly-intellectual challenges she had taken upon herself in the 1970s continued to find expression throughout the years: an aspiration to combine highly imaginative personal images with a painterly-structural conception, constructive representation of an irrational world of images; correspondences between old and new images, and the creation of classical contexts by means of juxtaposing charged Israeli motifs with quotations from Renaissance masters.
Getter’s choice of colors and composition is always connected with the Israeli light and landscapes, but also with the faded and ruined frescoes she saw in Italy. She translates these two sources with emphasized outlines, loss of details, and flattening.
In the 1980s, Getter added gender images to this rich iconographic and intellectual treatment of means and “poor” materials that represent relations between men and women.
In the late 1980s Getter abandoned plywood and printed paper in favor of canvas and color, gave up building clear compositions and created a colorful anarchy while emphasizing the banal and clichéd aspect of academic painting. Yet she remained a conceptual artist, continuing to use images from the memory of art and from the collective cultural memory.
Pesi Girsch (b. Germany, 1954; immigrated in 1968) separated photography from the processing by adding a narrative, and built—formally and experientially—a reality from basic elements such as man, earth, water and sky. She created a synthesis of Hellenistic sculpture that is found with limbs broken off, influences of the body’s sufferings in the sculptures of Michelangelo and the plasticity of the figures in the photographs of Mapplethorpe.
In the overall scene of photography in Israel, Pesi Girsch’s photography stood out as a foreign implant with distant cultural sediments. The influence of her childhood in Germany found expression in her works in the representation of the tension between Christianity and Judaism and in expression of the Jewish people’s path of afflictions, pursued by Christian symbols. These contents were poured into polished patterns, with stylized figures frozen in them. Complex ceremonies of distortion and death with quasi-pagan rites were designed and photographed with a clean meticulousness.
The ritualistic scenes in her works from the late 1980s and early 1990s had a hallucinatory Surrealist appearance that verged on the macabre. The severed limbs and the almost “acrobatic” bodily tension of the attenuated bodies in her works were associated with photographs of victims of the Holocaust.
In the late 1990s Girsch exhibited photographs of yards in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem and photographs from Dachau, Germany. Beside the enthusiasm about the beauty of the old yard, prominence was given to the awareness that time there had stopped. Her ability to remain a foreigner in her own homeland enabled her to present to the spectator a view of reality that reflects a central problem—the increasing disparity between the self and the Other.
Girsch’s photographs of dead chicks entailed acts of collecting, sorting and reshaping. While in her previous series the flowing continuum of life was frozen, here what was frozen looked vital, but in the harsh presence of death. The place could be interpreted as Germany, with all its connotations.
In the 1980s Michal Heiman (b. Israel, 1954) worked concurrently as both a painter and a photographer. She exhibited paintings on plywood that were rich in texture and color, while as a photographer she worked on a series of enlarged and duplicated newspaper pages that dealt with the connection between authenticity and communication. She reappropriated photographs she had taken that had appeared in the newspapers and displayed them in artistic spaces and contexts. The works reported ironically about the absurdity of the attempt to demolish traditional romantic values such as the freedom to create, authorship of a work, originality and authenticity. In the early 1990s she exhibited photographs/objects in a space where the organization and the atmosphere evoked the feeling of a memorial room. The photographs, which had been taken from family albums, were attached to transparent boxes and showed signs of having been pulled out of the album in which they had originally been looked at in an innocent and primal way, to be placed in an anonymous, public viewing space. In the 1990s Heiman showed works that connected with psychology, The esoteric and mystical teachings of JudaismKabbalah, concealment, masks and ambiguities. These works had modes of symbolizing that Heiman took from Tarot cards, alternative medicine, literary texts, etc., added to the idea of cruelty and loss of life and to the idea of the separation of the mind, the understanding, the spirit and logic (the head) from matter, the flesh, the impulses and the desires (the body). The portrait of artist Aviva Uri recurred in her works and through her Heiman dealt with motifs connected with woman/mask/woman artist/story/nightmare/physical death/cultural death.
In the late 1990s Heiman created a kind of alternative “test” based on the T.A.T. (Thematic Apperception Test) used for psychological diagnoses. Her installation was built as a station where the M.H.T. (Michal Heiman Test) was held. In her opinion, the test presented a situation analogous to the art world, but also entailed a closed system of contemplation and interpretation. While the viewer of an art work is required to be active and to face his/her own fears and wonderings, Heiman invited the viewers to a dialogue, through which they could give expression to their thoughts. By turning viewers into patients or people being diagnosed, she reconstructed an intimate quasi-therapeutic situation and dealt with the point of interface between psychology and the museum and with the essence of the image and of identity.
In the late 1990s Eti Jacobi (b. Israel, 1961) exhibited her first paintings, which entailed a connection between classical painting and the animation paintings of the Disney Studios. Critics related to these images as an expression of the sense of Israeli art’s remoteness from European art, because of their secondary nature and a capacity that seemed limited to no more than chatter on the margins of beauty. Paintings on subjects taken from Greek mythology after the French classicists were given childish names from inscriptions on playing cards or from the world of fairy tales. In this way they became “a marvelous world.” By using animation and movement, which are absent from classical painting, Jacobi breathed life and magic into historical painting.
With this blurring of boundaries she examined the hierarchy between classical painting and the enchanting painting of Disney, the mixing of the French and the American traditions, the viewing of classical historical painting from the point of view of a child. The blurring of boundaries highlighted a number of contrasts: adult/child, high/low, masculine/feminine, light/heavy, figurative/abstract, pleasing/painful.
The painting of Liliane Klapisch (b. France, 1933; immigrated in 1969) evolved from the abstract painting of the 1950s in France, but also preserved an affinity to classical art and observation of nature. In order to shift from abstract to figurative painting she learned what she dubbed “the grammar of nature,” which she found in the landscapes of Poussin and in a connection to nature filtered through culture and geometry. Klapisch drew studies outdoors, and painted her canvases in the studio, with a limited and at times turbid scale of colors.
Klapisch’s paintings contain an inner tension between nature and intellect, between the organic and the conceptual, between interior and exterior. Choosing subjects connected with her surroundings—a cityscape, backyards, construction sites—she drew the viewer in by means of motifs that conduct the eye inwards, such as trees, parts of houses and strips of paint that took on the role of the window that appeared in many of her paintings. Her compositions tend towards symmetry and harmony, but the brushstrokes have an expressive momentum and reveal an emotional or sensual way of relating to the painted objects.
Her love for the unfinished form drew Klapisch to paint sites where construction was beginning, that were in a stage of disorder. She translated the rich dynamics projected by these construction sites into a personal painting that relates to the social reality of here and now. The scaffolds symbolized not the optimism of the construction but the fact of their being naked remnants set out in a geometry that is full of tension. The blue sky at the site became a compressed, polluted and unfriendly material. Through a favorite modernist subject Klapisch consolidated an atmosphere of violence, static and with no exit. The power of Klapisch’s painting derives from its simplicity and directness, and from the artist’s experience, which has developed in depth over the decades of her oeuvre.
In the late 1980s Shosh Kormosh (b. Germany, 1948, died 2002) based her photographic work on existing photographs from catalogues of auctions and landscape photography magazines. She treated and intervened in them in various ways, photographed the outcome again and enlarged it to dimensions that created grainy images of domestic objects and strips of nature severed from their natural environment and presented as frozen and isolated.
In her next works, Kormosh added to her repertoire of objects animals and flowers that looked as though they were stuffed, embalmed, and frozen in their movement. The processes of retouching the shadows, of duplicating and distancing the outcome from the source, created a flat surface that accorded the photographed objects a new meaning and a different dimension of time.
Kormosh related to the old, European-bourgeois-aristocratic culture. From this she took objects representing a beauty that was beautified and decorative, but also dissociated and void of content. The treated photograph created an atemporal, iconic, ritualistic character. Later she reworked simple everyday images in a long and patient process, cutting, pasting and combining them into an image composed of duplications floating in a black space, and creating a surrealistic transition between the human and the animal. The motif of feathers, which recurred frequently in her works, represented the extreme integration in her works of the beautiful with the disgusting, of the ornamental and the aesthetic with trash. The objects she selected are identifiable as belonging to the feminine, domestic realm.
In the 1990s Sigalit Landau (b. Israel, 1969) positioned herself in extreme mental-topographical states and created environments of life and death at the margins, with a strong sensual presencing. At the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv she entered a space used by homeless people to sleep and rest in, made her home inside it and worked with the materials she found there, identifying herself with the life there.
Messianic ideas and fundamentalism are among the subjects she engaged with. The elements she set up created a general view of a torture chamber. Landau felt comfortable in the chaos, in dealing with fungi that are identified with dirt and decay, in the rejected underground regions. In the exhibition she mounted, the viewer’s gaze was channeled from a chaotic culture to the museum’s demand for sterility, to a confrontation with the collapsing concept of the museum-shrine.
In Landau’s work, a shipping container as a nomadic place was transformed into an environment that was personal and global at the same time. She installed several projects in such containers, which offered the visitors difficult experiences, confrontations and contexts.
Landau did not depict phenomena—she lived them from within. The weak and the other became part of her Self. In the Israeli reality she became a Palestinian, in the gender reality she was a woman, in the Western reality she was Eastern, in the social reality she was the foreign worker, the migrant, the homeless person.
In the 1970s Pamela Levi (b. United States, 1949; immigrated in 1976, died 2004) created collages consisting of scraps from women’s magazines stitched to one another. Her approach to stitching was a feminist one: an affection for the activity itself, and a rebellion against the stereotyped approach she had encountered while still at school. Levi also made use of charged fabrics created by traditional women’s toil, such as pieces of embroidery, or carpets. Over an abstract background, she printed and painted figures of biblical and contemporary women in social and political contexts. The works represented an inner struggle between the “classical” woman who sews and decorates, and the “savage,” irrational and anti-social artist who cuts and fragments figures and conveys violent, outspoken and painful messages in her work.
In the early 1980s, in the wake of the Lebanon War, Levi felt a need to express the human condition, and to do so by means of the human figure, which at the time had almost disappeared from Israeli art. In her strong desire to make herself heard and to have an influence, she reluctantly gave up using feminine means of expression in favor of traditional masculine oil paints.
Pamela Levi went out into the urban landscape and photographed ordinary or aggressive vicinities and figures: girls, men, children, mostly in minimal clothing. The photographs were then laid on the canvas, which she had covered beforehand with writing in colored oil pastels. The text remained exposed to varying degrees, at times revealing itself like veins through the skin of the figures, or between them.
Levi’s personal-psychological realism built a collage of scraps of life and dealt with mythology, identity, feminine and masculine sexuality, representation of violence and anxieties. The wounded and exposed naked body inside alienated environments evoked melancholy feelings about a problematic eroticism.
Marilou Levin (b. Israel, 1967) began her artistic activities in the 1990s. She painted in a traditional technique, on various surfaces, mostly taken from the domestic world, that are traditionally associated with women, such as cutting boards, plates, frying pans. Levin dealt with the experience of contemporary femininity, against a background of conservative conceptions about the woman’s place, role and image. Avoiding feminist clichés, she examined with a sober humor her attitude to conventions and stereotypes, repeatedly testing the boundaries of her freedom in works that projected an inner bargaining between obeying and challenging these conventions and stereotypes.
Her paintings were a sensual celebration of colors, curvaceous forms and trompes l’oeil, in which she painted both the object and its shadow, employing an inventory of images that evoked ruined objects from her childhood, nostalgic images that awoke distant innocent memories. She often added texts to create witty parodies and provocative word play.
Levin’s illusionistic painting and her aspiration to perfection were part of her stance—her conception of realistic painting as feminine expression. Order and precision were part of her feminine identity, as was her desire to beautify objects that had gone out of use. Her painting knew its way when it aimed to shake up the viewer’s equanimity and reservoir of conventions and prejudices, and it did this with the aid of the seductive power, the persuasiveness, the enchantment of her high painterly ability and her talent to surprise and to bring humor into the combination of the material that serves as a base with the painterly image or text appearing upon it.
In the 1970s Yehudit Levin (b. Israel, 1949) turned from photography to drawing with the aid of bamboo rods and threads. These powerful objects/drawings developed into a series in which the lines were wooden planks. Later she added torn pieces of plywood, which functioned as patches of color beside the lines of drawing, thus creating more complex works that extended across the walls of the display space to ostensibly unlimited sizes. She gave poetic names to her works, which dealt with contemporary aspects of eroticism and mythology and also expressed her inner life. These were narrative figurative works, in which the gender of the figures remained unspecified, and their complex composition broke the narrative’s structure and rebuilt it in a private associative manner.
In the 1980s the figures disappeared, and large, abstract masses of color appeared on the canvases. In the early 1990s Levin exhibited paintings in which horizontal and vertical brushstrokes built the surface of the picture plane and retained an independent existence. The works looked calculated, like an absurd combination of the spirituality and self-voiding of Rothko and the constructions of Mondrian.
In the late 1990s Levin returned to painting figures. Distinctively feminine figures, these were princesses or dancers, almost life-size, formed and clothed with brushstrokes. The red figures burst out of the flat canvas, while the white paint around them and the transitions between transparency and opaqueness hinted at their various organs.
Bracha Ettinger (b. Israel, 1948) is an artist, a clinical psychologist, a psychoanalyst and a theorist. In the early 1980s she made painting her major occupation, with the photocopying machine replacing and supplementing the conventional means of painting. The titles of her works hinted at links between the contexts of psychoanalysis, feminism, history, language, and the process in which images are created. The Hebrew term hallal(a) (a masculine noun which means “space” or “vacuum,” which the suffix [a] makes feminine) described the space of the absence of woman’s subjectivizing psychic space and the way language ignores her specificity. Bracha Ettinger blurred the boundaries between the disciplines she engaged in professionally, and inquired about the “self” with the aid of duplication techniques, wounding the copy, removing parts of it and creating empty spaces, working the photocopic pigments into oil painting. She sought to depict absence and an imperceptible vacant space by means of the visible—painting. The intervention of a paintbrush dipped in paint, a pencil or a chalk, created new spaces for contemporary painting. An ambivalence was produced: a denial of the original, and a continued transmission of it. The sheet of paper served as a metaphorical field for the arena of a historical event of denial, which exists in a pathological mental state as a result of a traumatic experience, to the point that connection with reality is lost. The trauma causes the creation of a kind of “autistic language,” which pronounces words and sentences as though they were verbal signs whose “signified” is lost, leaving only an incomprehensible world. In her works, Bracha Ettinger sought to relate to the possibility of existing and creating in a world that experiences a Holocaust, in which an innocent consciousness is not possible.
From the mid-1980s on, she developed a personal language that she named “Matrix,” which engaged with representation of femininity on the Symbolic level and with implanting elements of this language into the bounds of the existing language of signs with its masculine orientation (after Jacques Lacan, whose writings she translated into Hebrew), developing a post-Lacanian theory of trans-subjectivity.
Hilla Lulu Lin
Already at the outset of her path, the work of Hilla Lulu Lin (b. Israel, 1964) was characterized by the “collagistic” nature of her visual and verbal materials. In the early 1990s she exhibited photographs of body parts and a wide variety of materials that combined to build sexual and sensuous meanings. She created a cynical-humoristic surrealistic world.
The texts that appeared within and beside her works were written in a way that became yet another distinctive characteristic of the artist. This is a deliberately childish and faltering script that Lin designed herself.
The contents of Lin’s texts tended to be basic, bodily and pre-linguistic, imitating childish and sensual sounds. Short verbal sequences, which could be poems or fragments of poems, became a private dialect that the artist created and brought into the language. From her personal, feminine point of view, Lin presented her world of fantasies and nightmares, erotic desires and feminine distresses, dark thoughts and layers of rebelliousness, in various forms of theatrical ceremonial acts, autoerotic injurings of her bared body, installations and objects laden with artificial materials and in strong colors, surrealistic video films, and sensual poems. The strong coloring emphasized the erotic power and filled the space with expressions of the face and the emotions. When speaking about the influence the film director David Lynch had on her work, she said that, like him, she preferred to soberly observe things as they are, without denying rot, mire and evil, to make them visually perceptible, and to present them as equivalent and analogous to states of mind.
In the early 1990s Tova Lotan (b. Israel, 1952) exhibited paintings/objects that were rich in materials. She dug into the painting, exposed layers and created reliefs of a kind. In her works she emphasized the game-board as a meta-image. The thematic focus of her works centered on the ability to read, in the broad sense. In her next series she developed the theme of mother-son relations in different variations, embedding in them messages about intimate/dependent relationships. There were two tracks in her work: childhood and maturity vis-à-vis classicism and modernism.
Later Lotan showed works dealing with vision and blindness, the gaze and the inward gaze. She stuck nails in the eyes that she painted, and in her self-portrait painted herself in dark, opaque glasses. As a photographer, Lotan exhibited works that presented a recurring image: a torso of a woman (the artist herself), whose arms remained outside the photograph. On a second viewing it became clear that the hidden arms of the photographer, who is also the person being photographed, are actually holding the camera, in the “eye” of the works. The faceless portrait presented the center of the body covered with an undershirt with holes in it, perhaps seductive, perhaps meaningless. Here, and in other works, Lotan dealt with subjects of masculine/feminine identity and the diffusion between them, also by means of the ambiguity of the lens—the eye of the artist and the eye of the camera; the eye of the woman and the eye of the man looking at her. In her photography/painting, Tova Lotan sought to express the disparity between “seeing time” and “feeling time,” and the two opposed forces that take part in her artistic practice: the “pressure force” that cuts and determines, and the “absorption force” of softness and containment.
Tal Matzliah (b. Israel, 1961) began exhibiting in the 1990s. The meticulous brushwork in her oil paintings recalled folk handicrafts that entail patience and unglamorous work, a kind of tribute to traditional women’s work. Matzliah dealt with the question of her personal identity by means of subjects that engaged her in her everyday life. Motifs such as food and children recurred repeatedly and became the focus of her identification. Her treatment of these tended to be decorative and stylized in both form and color, creating a format in which she imprinted images upon a cramped and congested background. The agitated hatchings and the bold and contrasting color planes expressed Matzliah’s approach to the format as an arena of action. Opposed forces acted in this arena, in confrontation with the desire for order and stasis. The words, the images and the colors were given equal status on the picture plane, and the frame was a continuation of the work itself.
Matzliah’s oil paintings presented an analogy between the treatment of inner, personal subjects and the treatment of the painting itself: the self-erasure that she attested found expression in an apparently obsessive, endless erasing of words, which became a tonal rhythm in many paintings, with flags and Smiley faces (sad, erased), painful personal sentences of a confessional and remonstrative character, and repeated images of “the impaired child” whose skin was covered with stains. Matzliah saw this child as herself and as expressing her sense of the wretchedness of her life.
Dalia Meiri (b. Israel, 1951) for many years sculpted in basalt stone, choosing stones from ruins, buildings and fortresses, hewn building stones or ancient agricultural implements such as olive presses and millstones. Other materials, such as electricity poles and pieces of iron, were combined with the stone and complemented it, or contended with it, penetrated and wounded it, at times also evoking erotic associations.
When the landscape was strong, big and primeval, Meiri would engulf and merge herself into it while using its materials. Her use of material that has a past and a history of its own and, on the other hand, of natural and acculturated materials, created a tension between hard and soft, between archaic and technologically sophisticated, between culture and pre-culture.
In the memorial sites that she erected, Meiri emphasized the devotion and the self-sacrifice for the earth and the place. The area around the monument remained in its natural state and thus blended into its surroundings, changing with the changing seasons.
Her works are sensual, a kind of body art, in that they convey bodily and emotional sensations of the artist as a human being and as a woman. After the birth of her son Meiri continued the act of diapering in her sculpture as well. The transition from the heavy basalt sculptures to the body sculptures of the show “Branches and Diapers” was only natural.
Already in the first exhibition held by Michal Na’aman (b. Israel, 1951) in the mid-1970s, her works contained sophisticated word-play, black humor, literary materials from various cultures presented in a visual design, deliberate changes between masculine and feminine Hebrew word forms, and an economical use of language aided by photography and script. Her statements were enigmatic and rich in hints that represented the thing itself—a minimalism that was fashionable at the time, but also an affection for language games and intellectual riddles. Na’aman took a photograph of an inconsequential object, and with the aid of a directing syllable, word, or an additional photograph, turned it into what it needed to be: an idea and a symbol with many meanings.
She made use of existing depictions, examined and juxtaposed meanings, but also created formal fantasies. In the late 1970s she introduced duplicated cut-outs into her works. The desire to duplicate was not motivated by “Pop,” but was rather a secret of self-fertilization, as a continuation of her blurring of male-female distinctions and of her form-rhyming. What in the late 1970s and early 1980s was dubbed the “return to painting” found expression in Na’aman’s works in a gradual transition from collages and sprayed paint to work with a paintbrush and industrial paint, and later to oil on canvas. In contrast to the collagistic compositions of her early works, her paintings took on a classical and hermetic structure.
Her large paintings, with their multiplicity of detail and their tendency to the grotesque, brought to mind Romanesque works suffused with the stamp of an integration of profound fear and complete faith in a permanently ordered world. In Na’aman’s view, any attempt to create a convention or a rigid world order is accompanied by an ironic dimension. Her solution to this was “conventions” invented by herself, each of which contained characteristics familiar from Western thought relating to the forces that motivate human activity. She processed these constant images in a painterly way that connected, complicated and created conflicts between one theory and another, one image and another, one situation and another, one person and another, to the point that the apparent state of order contained within itself all the cracks that point to its destruction.
The artistic activity of Efrat Natan (b. Israel, 1949) was conspicuous in the 1970s, when the connection of her work and her associative thought with the influence of the American “Happenings” of the 1960s created a series of performances. Using her own body, her performance was one of the first to be put on in Israel, and expressed political, social and feminist criticism, as also did the charged performance presented in a stairwell shortly after a terror incident had occurred in such a stairwell.
In another performance, Natan attempted to create an aesthetic, rhythmic and visual dimension that integrated art and theater. The spectators also became a formal element in the space. Natan made use of Josef Beuys’s aesthetics of materials and of “Israeli” materials such as undershirts and a flag. When Natan lay down with a flag in her hand, this created an image that dealt with the artist as a sacrificial victim, and with the State that is situated at an intersection of a fall of flags, while also quoting from art history (Delacroix—Liberty Leading the People).
In A Work on a Roof, which was actually a performance-installation, Natan used everyday objects to create charged images of the tortuous journey from birth to death. Here she refrained from using her audience as a formal component and also eschewed her own physical presence.
Since the 1980s Natan has engaged in museum activity, art teaching and stage design.
The oeuvre of Lea Nikel (b. Ukraine, 1918, immigrated in 1920) has stood as a unique and independent chapter in Israeli art for more than fifty years. The acerbic coloring, the intensity and the vitality that have become the distinguishing mark of her paintings, were exceptional from the outset, and constituted a contrast to the refined and lyrical character of the Israeli abstract. The absoluteness of her abstraction, too, was different from a certain affinity to the figurative that her colleagues retained in their abstract paintings. The Fauvist freshness of Matisse with the surrealistic spontaneity of Miró—whose influence she declared —help us understand Nikel’s free and bold coloring. Nikel’s works from the 1980s continued the direction she had begun in earlier decades. The scale of the paintings remained large, creating a colorful environment which surrounded the viewer with stains that were free, airy, at times colorful and magnificent, at times monochromatic.
Nikel was never connected with any group or school. While Israeli art went through changes and transformations, Nikel created her own individual painting that developed organically out of itself. Her art never carried narrative/verbal/ideational messages, nor personal ones, and certainly not social ones. Nikel insisted on total separation between her biography and her art, and rejected attempts to examine their reciprocal connections and influences.
Since the 1980s Tamar Raban (b. Israel, 1955) has painted, sculpted, made installations and expressed herself in Body Art, but her main contribution to Israeli art has been as a performance artist, and as the person who institutionalized performance art in Israel and transmitted her accumulated knowledge and experience to new performance artists.
Her work in this field began with a group of performance artists in a venue she founded together with Danny Zakheim. “Shelter 209” asserted that the venue and the show were inseparable. Participants in the performance and visitors lived in this space, went through processes, experienced fruitful interactions, and created.
Raban’s first performances contained distinctively political content, telling a story that was connected with the local reality.
In the 1990s Raban switched to a personal, autobiographical focus, to which she added eclectic images. Feminist and humanistic/political influences found expression in these projects. The legacy of the Holocaust in her family, the difficulties of cultural adaptation faced by immigrants, mother-daughter relations, the various forms of time—these were some of the themes that Tamar Raban engaged with in her works. Traditional feminine motifs, such as unraveling and sewing or carrying a pitcher on one’s head appeared concurrently with contemporary technologies that she appropriated for herself—computers, video, advanced means of projection. Raban saw herself as a plastic artist, and her performances were characterized by meticulously ordered compositions and a plastic use of texts, diverse materials and sculptural objects.
Osnat Rabinovitch (b. Israel, 1946) focused on site-specific installation in the 1990s. At the outset she did collage work and painting on composite work surfaces (diptychs and polyptichs). The materials she used were simple and a part of her special interest had to do with relations between high and low, between the desired and the fragile, and between illusion and sober perception.
In her installations she made use of wooden planks, plywood cutouts, transparent sheets on which the sculptural elements appear vulnerable and on the verge of collapse, but the structure that contained them preserved a painstaking aesthetics, a symmetry and an order. She executed all the works manually herself, using an electric saw, screwdrivers and a drill. The spaces in which she erected her installations were diverse: museum galleries for Israeli art, a hair salon, or a vacant shop at the Central Bus Station.
The subject that Rabinovitch focused on was the Israeli reality. Beside the painterly elements there was also room for words, which Rabinovitch treated as Ready Mades, since they were verbal coinages taken from the public domain. In an installation made entirely of words that she erected in a home gallery in Jerusalem, she hung words from the prayer book for The Day of Atonement, which falls on the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tishrei and is devoted to prayer and fasting.Yom Kippur and from everyday speech, with the form and the content fused together into a visual text.
Michal Rovner (b. Israel, 1957) did a lot of work at the Dead Sea and its vicinity, where she created several series in the course of the 1990s. At the same time, Rovner also worked at Polaroid photography and videography. In her immediate Polaroid photographs, paint drippings, materiality and depth yielded a painterly outcome. In contrast, her videography is distanced, cold and clean. With the aid of the video, Rovner created a glimpse into an “other” space, with no joint physical presence of the photographer and the photographed. Her enigmatic works depicted states of emptiness and uncertainty, scenes that float in a menacing silence, the silence of the Dead Sea. Their unreal quality provoked questions about the truth entailed in human experience. They expressed a state in which a balance exists between parting and merging, between the dissolution of particles and their unification into material and form, between an identifiable image from reality and an abstraction. The viewer of the photographs had to actually “play against his own nature”—against the habit of recognizing a particular landscape and of positioning figures in it.
In a work that Rovner created over the long, tall façade of the Colonnades House in Tel Aviv, she connected panels to the scaffolding, with plastic sheets hanging from them containing photographic images such as figures of humans or animals, on a flat empty background of endless desert—an engagement with man-nature relations. The large-scale work was a sequel to Rovner’s project at Mitzpeh-Ramon, where she wrapped the Visitors’ Center with a huge photograph of a figure standing on the cliff. The colored figures, which were enlarged to immense dimensions, were processed photographically by means of a computer, with emphasis on their graininess, and thus almost completely lost their informative component and became a hallucinatory scene. The size of the work, the folds of the plastic sheets that moved in the wind, and the whitish gray coloring, all contributed to the surrealistic atmosphere.
In the 1990s Yehudit Sasportas (b. Israel, 1968) began exhibiting drawings that were mostly gestures connected with women’s activities and occupations. By means of cutting and pasting, these drawings became objects that created an illusion of movement. Using smooth carpentry work, Sasportas created sculptural works – hybrid objects engendered out of the domestic environment but with their functionality neutralized by the way they were designed. Through these, she undermined the picture of the home and of a normal world, and told of a personal and a cultural loss. Sasportas cultivated the deceptive space between art and forgery, between the prestigious and its imitation.
In a large installation that she titled Tin Weight, she presented a group of works that contained hundreds of items. The space looked like a huge playroom in which objects that had been reduced in size had been scattered. With humor and irony, she displayed real objects whose identity was disguised, and cardboard copies that imitated images of reality, in absurd combinations. In the same spirit, she elevated and accorded power to “low” and worthless utensils. Sasportas sees the individual that forms part of a group as worthless, and the rickety construction of the objects likened them to a “three-dimensional drawing on the verge of collapse.”
The loving approach of Joyce Schmidt (b. United States, 1942; immigrated in 1969; died in 1991) to materials from nature in general, and to paper in particular, opened an abundance of possibilities to her. Schmidt created with sand, stone, plants and paper, which with time evolved from means and raw materials into the work itself.
Her life routine included periodic retirements for excursions to the desert, which fascinated her, and for becoming acquainted with its inhabitants. In Schmidt’s first ten years in Israel (the 1970s), she produced paper, worked in the techniques of lithography, imprinting and etching, to which with time she added sand, graphite and sandpaper. In all her works the process itself was very important, and its transition through the private prism of the artist produced a refined and spiritual result.
In her works from the 1980s, Schmidt turned the paper into a moral subject and object. She believed in the purity of paper produced exclusively from fibers of local plants, with which one may perform only actions that stem from its “paperly” qualities.
Joyce Schmidt devoted her life to a dedicated study of the process of working with paper and its materials, and to passing on her knowledge and her moral approach to many students.
In the early 1990s Michal Shamir (b. Israel, 1957) exhibited works composed of layers of simple, “low” transparent materials laid on top of one another and hung as paintings with watercolor values. Organic images and motifs with cultural connotations were assimilated into the work and given an alienated, template-like, industrial context, but together with the effort to conceal and to cover, Shamir left room for the exposure of a painful and sensitive real voice, foreign to the synthetic character of the plastic. Her choice as a sculptor of using the transparent materials made it possible for her to work on nuances and to eschew basic values of sculpture such as volume and weight.
Her choice also entailed something of a feminine remonstration against the massive works in iron that had been impressed upon the Israeli consciousness as “correct” masculine sculpture. Her preference for these simple and perishable materials was also something of a provocation, in her daring to infuse life and materiality into such indifferent and non-heroic material. Indeed, many sets of relations coexist in her works: transparent/opaque, rigid/flexible, exposing/concealing, narrative/abstract, repetitive pattern/poetry, banal/noble.
Later Shamir also incorporated foreign, “parasitic” bodies into her artistic activity, such as sentences guiding or making requests of the viewer, confusing or ridiculous in content and severed from any connection with the place. These were pasted on museum walls but also in extra-artistic places.
Shamir created an ambivalence and a gender tension by incorporating objects considered “feminine” into her works and by using sentences projecting dependence that sound like a feminine voice. She also staged photographs of close-ups of bodies, and on their skin—human and poignant, like her own belly—she inscribed witty and provocative remarks and reflections on questions about the body, on aesthetics, on cultural models.
Miriam Sharon (b. Israel, 1944) worked intensively in the 1970s to promote feminist art in Israel. Her activity manifested itself in many declarations on the subject on numerous occasions, in publishing a newspaper titled The Feminine Sex devoted to women’s art, in organizing exhibitions of Israeli women artists, and in mounting exhibitions of international feminist artists in Israel. This activity did not gain broad support from the art establishment and drew hostile criticisms in the newspapers. Miriam Sharon herself created projects—installations and performances, as well as “Mail Art”: photographs and texts that were sent on postcards.
In the Pulses project, Sharon designed meditative spaces out of tarpaulins (which she prepared and sewed) smeared with sand, that created a circular space inside an urban space, and constituted an alternative to the urban concrete spaces. After a stay with a Bedouin tribe in the Sinai desert, she was accepted into a society of Bedouin women, and together they engaged in art: the Bedouin women embroidered and wove, and Miriam Sharon sewed the raw materials into her works. She dedicated a project in which stevedores in Ashdod were dressed in sandy colored canvas material, and later became creators of art, to “Ashdoda,” who in the Canaanite period had been a goddess of the sea (a statue depicting her stands in the sands of the beach at Ashdod).
Nature and earth were the subjects of Miriam Sharon’s homages and identifications, as personifications of woman exploited by a masculine world (progress, science, technology). Her works bore pro-ecological messages, and activated and involved the public for whom she served as a clarion. A sensory-moral awareness of the quality of the environment was combined with feminist messages and homages to goddesses and to seemingly “simple” women, such as Bedouin women, survivors and creative women, possessing an ancient wisdom and oral insights.
The art of Meira Shemesh (b. Israel, 1962, died 1996) grew out of imprints of personal experiences and childhood memories, and touched on philosophical and social questions such as the problem of the image of woman, the concept of beauty, the boundaries of good taste and the tension between the beautiful and the repulsive. A first glance at her work reveals a kind of obsessive decorativeness that is somewhat abject, innocent and childish A second glance deciphers a sober social and self criticism and a humor that chooses to hide inside a shell of weakness.
At the outset, in the late 1980s, she created watercolors and drawings in colored pens. Their subjects were taken from photographs that documented a typical Israeli childhood and were characterized by compression and an expressive sensitivity. Later she began to work on ornamented objects, using cheap and ornate plastic items and small dolls. Shemesh framed these small works in cheap frames. The beauty queens, ornamented with flowers and victory sashes, which appeared in her watercolors and drawings were now covered with sediments of a fragile and vulnerable childhood and a yearning to create a renewed personal identity.
The engagement with the feminine image was reflected in Shemesh’s treatment of the basic feminine functions: decoration, seduction, motherhood, nourishing, and domestic crafts. With an ironic but warm and compassionate gaze, Shemesh paid tribute in her work to the women before her who had decorated their own corners and obtained some sense of ownership by means of cheap objects whose beauty was artificial, abject and pathetic.
In her last exhibition, she integrated feminine statements of a woman-child with social-ethnic aspects, creating an encounter of East and West. The variety of glittering things and the concepts of ornate beauty were an expression of the “Eastern taste” upon which she had been raised—a value for which she sought legitimacy. A jolly, childish puppet theater exposed faking, hypocrisy and pain.
Components that would characterize the later works of Naomi Simantov (b. Bulgaria, 1952; immigrated in 1953) were already discernible in her paintings of the 1980s: work on the entire picture plane, avoidance of creating an illusory space, repetition of an image and transforming it into a pattern, an interplay between figurative and decorative forms, between a shaped form and a scribbled form, and incorporation of text into the painting.
Simantov painted in oils and industrial paints on blankets. The influence of Cubism and of Mondrian is discernible in her iconography. She painted a still life on a table, breaking up the image and the background into fragments, using several angles of vision simultaneously, spreading the image across the two-dimensional canvas, and flattening it, in denial of illusory space. Her treatment of the blanket emphasized its role as a surface and as a Ready Made object. In her use of “low” materials the artist wanted to propose an ethos of craft that is different from accepted practice, that is not without heroism in itself and is connected with the discourse on women’s art.
When Simantov went on to paint in oils on paper, she painted the blanket as a background and confronted questions of image/background relations. Later she turned to illusory painting of woven fabrics: paintings of fabric on a fabric (canvas) surface. Simantov used fine brushes to “spin” the warp and weft threads that make up the weave. Here the grid, like the blanket before it, served as a Ready Made. In the course of the feigned weaving, deliberate “errors” occurred, such as paint drips, threads unraveling at the edge of the weave, and holes in the braid, in a kind of rebellion against Modernism which aspires to present an object that is complete and flawless. Simantov’s paintings contained meanings on the question of the status of the painting, the status of the viewer in relation to the painting, and the status of the painter as a woman and as an artist.
Throughout the 1970s, the works of Aviva Uri contained references to a future event that depicted total, but not heroic, death— exclusively a victim’s stance. Uri chose an observation point from a bird’s eye view and did not go into details. The figures of people were schematic, but the softness of their lines, contrasted with the depictions of destruction around them, bespoke pity and pain. The character of the end changed over the years, but the visual signs that she used in a large portion of her works were images of holocaust. dismemberment, explosion, void and death.
The “Requiem” marked a transition in Uri’s works from depiction of a world in which the pure spiritual was present, to a depiction in which darkness, heaviness and mourning ruled. In the early 1980s she depicted the brutal chaos of an atomic or ecological holocaust. In the last years of her life the qualities of disaster and destruction, despair and cruelty, horror and death became more powerful. The large paintings were full of scratches, tangles of lines, bodies, predatory birds, tormented bodies among ruins, coffins, huge devastating fires. One of the most important women painters in the history of Israeli art, Uri developed a unique style, a school, a handwriting in which the line was a dominant element, and which for her, as she herself put it, “begins with man, and ends with God.”
A blend of the pluralistic language of the Midrasha [Art teachers Training College] in Yocheved Weinfeld (b. Poland, 1947; immigrated in 1957) began exhibiting her works in the late 1960s. Her drawings combined opposing modes of art: “anachronistic” academic drawing with Pop painting, precise realism with spontaneous scribbling. In the 1970s she turned to an autobiographical and conceptual direction, making extensive use of photography. She exhibited photographs of herself in which she distorted her facial features by means of stitches that crossed them. The stitch functioned as a line of drawing. In other works she “stitched” clods of earth, strips of sky or areas of snow. The very act of stitching, the paper handkerchiefs and the locks of pubic hair surrounding the place of the stitch, gave her works a feminine-erotic dimension.
In a group exhibition she showed a cluster of her belongings that created a “personal mythology,” the outcome of feverish collecting of objects that attested to the artist’s physical presence, such as leftovers of food she had eaten, butts of cigarettes she had smoked, bits of hair. Her self-exposure achieved a deliberate vulgarization.
In the late 1970s Weinfeld put on a performance in which she presented her own version of the ritual purification after menstruation detailed in the Shulhan Arukh. With herself in the role of the “purified” woman, she demonstrated to the audience all the obligations required of a Jewish woman. This series of performances, which dealt with questions of identity and with feminine sensitivities, for several years became the artist’s chief image and concept. The conflicts that Weinfeld emphasized in her work, as well as the means she used, continued to be expressed by young women artists who were influenced by her.
The work of Dorit Yacoby (b. Israel, 1952) occurs in the space of not-knowing that exists between two states of existence or two identities: the material existence or identity, which exists in a time-space continuum and the spiritual, which has no body and is severed from reality. Yacoby has exhibited since the 1980s and her works have consistently developed a number of personal images. The process and character of her work pointed to the source of the images as being in her inner world, partly at the unconscious level. Her enigmatic works dealt with the mystical and with the twilight zone between reality and hallucination as a point of departure for her paintings which were based, on the one hand, on sources that deal with esoteric doctrine, with A member of the hasidic movement, founded in the first half of the 18th century by Israel ben Eliezer Ba'al Shem Tov.Hasidic folk tales and legends from the Kabbalah, and, on the other hand, on a rich and contemporary plastic language.
Yacoby’s works were sometimes built over several years, layer on layer, overflowing large formats, incorporating fragmented and perishable objects—among them broken glass, twigs, ropes, items of clothing. Yacoby heaped up materials, poured paint, kneaded with her hands, sitting on the ground, in a closed space severed from any external reality. At times the works seem to be on the verge of crumbling and collapse.
Through the figure of woman Yacoby expressed her freedom and her ability to fly or to risk falling, to attain to new experiences of redemption in a new firmament, to free herself of burdensome impurity by baptism, by self-purification, by birth. The soul’s self-extrication from the material that surrounds it—the body: that is the sacrificial victim’s way of coming closer to God.
In the late 1980s Penny Yassour (b. Israel, 1950) created reductive sculptural elements reminiscent of architectonic bodies that were erected on the ground and created something like an industrial space. These maze-like works were described as mental maps. Moving through the space, the viewer created variable routes and new subjective contexts within them.
The premise that in a particular spatial organization information reflecting the conditions of the time and the place is imprinted led Yassour to works on a conception of spaces in situations of pressure. To do this, she studied maps, plans and drafts from the period of World War II, a period when a deep crisis occurred in the conception of the utopian absoluteness of the traditional map. Yassour imprinted her raw materials—a map of the railroad routes in Germany from 1938 and an architectural plan of a Nazi-period armaments plant—on to surfaces of rubber and silicone, which she then duplicated. The Rorschach appearance of the “maps” charged them with an ambivalence and a psychological tension, and their vagueness augmented the menace that they projected. In the 1990s Penny Yassour went more deeply into aspects of a space that is composed of a primal internal reality and a space of external reality that is charged with historical and geographical contexts.
Varda Yatom (b. Israel, 1946) made ceramic sculptures presenting tangible symbols of human anxieties in a painful reality. Her sculptures incorporated various approaches and currents in art, assimilating influences of modern art and the conception of art as a process. Yatom engaged in journeys of wandering and in an eternal quest for identity—both personal and collective—with its cultural and ethical sources, from the Israeli and Canaanite identity to a universal Jewish identity. Her works expressed a world view that claims that the fate of every human being, and of the artist in particular, is to be on a constant journey of wandering and quest for his/her identity. But the personal, national, ethical and cultural history that one bears sentences one in advance to a fixed place.
The series of pots that Lidia Zavadsky (b. Poland, 1937–2002) created in Jerusalem and in the Netherlands in the 1990s are characterized by an impressive three-dimensional presence and bold colors. Devoid of the function for which they were created, her pots were in fact very powerful, monumental sculptures, to a large extent ritualistic and inspired by nature.
The pots are built in two parts—a body and a head, in a diversity of colors and combinations. The lid of the pot is its identity. The bodies of the pots look as though parts of them have been buried in the earth for a long time and have been reconstructed in a process of restoration. (Zavadsky had experience in restoration of archeological ceramics.) Other pots, in strong colors, moved away from the sources of the ceramic tradition.
In a series of small jugs that are sculptural in character, she reconstructed the form of the sabra cactus, developed and streamlined it to make it colorful and give it a distinctive character. For her—as someone who is not a “Sabra” (a Hebrew slang term for people born in Israel)—this was another way of connecting with the Israeli landscape and locale.
Zavadsky noted that pottery, the language through which she expressed herself, is originally a masculine occupation that requires physical strength and a high technical skill. She perceived a challenge in according new content to this ancient, enrooted, highly-charged cultural language.
In the early 1980s Ofra Zimbalista (b. Israel, the 1940s) dealt with the death ritual. A human figure, impressed in a mold containing a mixture of clay soil and clay, took the place of the abstract. These reliefs looked like archeological findings recalling burnt bodies from Pompey, at times like sculptures of kings and slaves in ancient Egypt or tomb reliefs in classical Greece.
Zimbalista’s focus on death and the departure of the spirit from the body continued into three-dimensional sculptures based on body molds of her acquaintances. All the works were painted a particular shade of blue of a melancholic and introspective nature, which the artist saw as also projecting an acquiescence and acceptance appropriate to her statement.
Death was also present in Zimbalista’s works in the 1990s. A sense of holocaust accompanied her reliefs and her sculptures, mute evidence of lives that were cut off in their prime, whether in eruptions of lava, in atomic explosions, or in any other holocaust. Her painful feelings about being a mother and a woman in a society that she feels does not save its children from wars has been a trigger for many of her works.
In installations and sculptures located in various public places in Israel, Zimbalista portrayed groups of people in transitional states, suspended or climbing, seeking their place and their peace of mind.
Sources: Essays in exhibition catalogs and review articles from the press, by: