Artists: Israeli, 1970 to 2000

by Ilana Teicher, updated by Yael Guilat
Last updated

General View in the Studio, by Ofra Zimbalista, 1997.
Photographed by Avi Chai.
In Brief

During the 1970s, Israeli art was divorced from feminism, and female artists were often forced to ignore their identities as women while creating art. Because Israel thought of itself as a state of equality in which gender did not prohibit employment, it was not necessary to represent feminism in art. However, the roles women played in the arts sector began to come into question, and in the 1980s and the 1990s, Israeli women became more prominent artists as well as curators, writers, and educators. Ethiopian and former Soviet immigration to Israel in the 1980s also brought issues of race and ethnicity into Israeli art, continuing through the 1990s and culminating in the 2000s with art that centered gender and ethnic identity.

The 1970s

Rahel Shavit Bentwitch working on her art.

Untitled, by Rahel Shavit Bentwitch, 1978. Acrylic on canvas.

Photographer: Oded Laval

The 1970s were a conceptual and political period in Israeli art. The dominant approaches in art during these years articulated modernism among national and social concerns and struggles. It was a shaky decade: the euphoria brought by the 1967 war gave way to revived territorial and theological disputes; the emergence of the "Black-Panthers" protests that claimed equality for Mizrahi citizens and combatted discrimination against them; Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and abroad; the trauma of the Yom Kippur war; and finally the 1977 election of the right-wing Likud leader Menachem Begin, which ended almost 30 years of Labor Party rule.

The 1970s saw women attain increasing appreciation and presence in the art world. Women artists active during previous decades, such as Lea Nikel (1918-2005), Aviva Uri (1922-1989), Siona Shimshi (1939-2018), Tova Berlinski (1915-2022), Hava Mehutan (1925-2021), Ruth Schloss (1922-2013), Alima (Rita Alima) (1932-2013), Nora and Naomi) Nora Kochavi [1934-1999] and Naomi Bitter [b. 1936], Hannah Levy (1914-2006), Rahel Shavit Bentwich (1929-2022), and others held important solo exhibitions.

Unlike their colleagues in the United States and Europe, however, only a few of the women artists who participated in the Israeli art world were recognized as feminist artists, although in fact they were, and what they did was feminist art. The most prominent was Miriam Sharon (b. 1944). Her means of expression, and those of the women whose works she curated, were patiently hand-crafted works in the tradition of earlier women artists and projects that aspired to draw the public closer to feminism, ecological ideas, and art. These works resolutely conveyed a feminist message about the suppression of women in society.

During this period, the art establishment tended to reject this model of feminist art as tendentious and considered feminism and gender identity to be irrelevant in the arts and to Israel’s supposed state of gender equality. The mostly male “gatekeepers” of the art field (curators, teachers, and critics), such as the painter Raffi Lavie, generally opposed narratives, figurativity, and identity discourse in the visual arts, considering them part of a “reactionary” wave. This perception had especially negative effects on interpretations of the works of women artists, even those, like Michal Na’aman (b. 1951), Deganit Berest (b. 1949), Efrat Natan (b. 1947), and Tamar Getter (b. 1953), who gained visibility and prestige under Lavie’s patronage. And it was not only men who espoused this attitude. In the late 1970s, Sarah Breitberg-Semmel (b. 1947), one of the most prominent curators in the Israeli art world, wrote: “There is Israeli art and there are women artists, but the combination of the two has no practical meaning" (Breitberg-Semel, 50). Consequently, young women artists operated in an aggressive male arena that compelled them to dismiss their female identities, including the possibility of being simultaneously good artist and mothers (Scheflan-Katzav). Because hegemonic artistic discourse excluded feminist discourse and, more generally, the very mention of women and women-artists, women artists who engaged explicitly with themes of sexual identity, diversity of gender identities, or androgynous identities felt coerced to maintain a consensus of denial.

Nevertheless, Performance and Body Art began initial steps in Israel. Yocheved Weinfeld (b. 1947) and Efrat Natan expressed a feminine bodily “self” in performances and in Body Art. In photography and performances, Weinfeld made use of images of childbirth and religious rituals and engaged with questions of identity and feminine sensitivities. She influenced other young women artists, who took up the conflicts she emphasized in her works and the means she employed. Natan, too, put on performances in which she used herself and her own body to express feminist, social, and political criticism. Bianca Eshel-Gershuni (1932-2020) created unusual items of jewelry in which she combined noble and cheap materials, producing a deliberate magnificent kitsch. Doing so, she created a “counter feministic kitsch,” since kitsch was usually identified as a synonym of a feminine lack of high artistic taste. Despite the fact that Sara Breitberg curated Eshel-Gershuni’s solo-person exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum in 1985, Eshel-Gershuni's  artistic repertoire that displayed  pseudo "ritual" altars, textural pictures, and "imperfect" jewelry remained out of the Israeli canon at that time but gained recognition three decades later. Her artistic creation opposed established paradigms of sophisticated, conceptual, minimalistic tendencies that Breitberg described in 1986 as "The Want of Matter: A Quality in Israeli Art."

The 1980s

The 1980s brought deep changes in Israeli society. For the first time, a Women’s Party participated successfully in elections for the Knesset, represented by Marcia Freedman. The elections for the Tenth Knesset (June 30, 1981) came at the end of the most turbulent campaign to date in Israel’s history, saturated with ethnic tensions and violent incidents. New political forces emerged, such as Tami (associated with the Masorti or Conservative movement), led by Aharon Abu Hatzera and Vicki Shiran, who played a key role in the Mizrahi feminist movement. The First Lebanon War (1982) and the first Intifada in the mid-1980s were watersheds for Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations. Waves of Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union and from Ethiopia changed the country’s demographic texture and raised new issues of identity.

In view of this sociopolitical reality and the concomitant economic privatization and disintegration of cultural hegemonic myths, Israeli identity broke into complex and hyphenated identities—including an incipient gender discourse—that sometimes clashed and sometimes accommodated each other. This situation served as a backdrop to artistic trends that focused on biographical elements and personal modes of expression that raised questions about women's roles in the private and public spheres as artists, objects, and political agents.

In this environment, a younger generation of women artists founded collective noncommercial  galleries and challenged the art world’s infrastructure. Batia Grossbard (1910–1995) painted in a style with an affinity to American Abstract Expressionism, juxtaposing smooth color planes with aggressive brush splashes and creating huge diptychs. Lea Nikel continued developing her rich abstract work, and Liliane Klapisch’s (b. 1933) painting evolved from an abstract style characteristic of France in the 1950s to a more classical style characterized by observation of nature in the 1980s. 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 loss of beauty and disintegration.

Ofra Zimbalista (1939-2014) dealt with the theme of death and extinction of the spirit in the body, in sculptures 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 pioneered the inclusion of ceramic work as a genre of equal value to other means of plastic expression.

The young generation of women artists in the 1980s was involved in transitions in painting, sculpture, photography, performance, and video-art. Pamela Levi (1949-2004) represented the “Return to Painting”—a traditionally masculine genre—in work that was deliberately rigid and lacking in grace; her pictures, based on photos, displayed the violence of Israeli public space. After the Lebanon War, she felt a need to express the human condition by means of the human figure, which had virtually disappeared from Israeli painting. The younger Eti Jacobi (b. 1961), who also joined this “Return,” painted with ease, attractiveness, and a certain degree of alienation. The large brushstrokes and decisive forms in the paintings of Yehudit Levin (b. 1949) challenged male dominance in the abstract movement. Feminist theory has shown that there is a connection between the role of male painters in abstract expressionism and the broad and all-embracing pictorial gestures. Levin proposed something similar but different in the pictorial qualities that can be seen as non-binary. The broad paint smears of Smadar Eliasaf (b.1952) were also linked to the heroic tradition of the expressive abstract, and, as with Yehudit Levin’s works, only a second viewing revealed how delicate they were.

The sculptures of Sigal Primor (b. 1961) and Drora Dominey (b. 1950), in metal and heavy wood and rigid geometrical forms, combined stylistic rigor with feminine issues. In Primor’s work, the feminine content was concealed in codified forms. 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. Penny Yassour (b. 1950) 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. A more modernist sculpture approach appeared in the basalt stone artworks of Dalia Meiri (b. 1951) and the aluminum and stainless steel works of Tamara Rikman (b. 1943), which were similarly connected to a stereotype of masculinity. Meiri’s sculptures were located between the archaic and the technologically sophisticated, between the cultural and the pre-cultural. In the memorial sites 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.

The female-artistic voice that made itself heard in these years expressed a social criticism stemming from a much more emotional source than had hitherto been expressed in Israeli art, but still without any specifically feminine aspects, in particular among the older generation. Aviva Uri employed visual signs of holocaust, disintegration, explosion, void, and death. Her “Requiem” designated a transition from a world in which the pure spiritual was present to a reality dominated by darkness and mourning, an atomic or ecological holocaust. Mina Sisselman responded to the revolutions in eastern Europe, the ecological dangers threatening the globe, and the Lebanon War. Siona Shimshi created series of large figures that bluntly conveyed social messages. Hava Mehutan, pained by the socio-political situation, materialism and 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, nature, and the local soil also touched on traumatic events experienced by the entire nation and offered a fresh point of view about Zionism and Judaism. Dorrit Ruth Yaacoby (1952-2015) 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 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) facilitates coming closer to God.

The first performances of Tamar Raban (b. 1955) contained distinct local-political content. She played a major role in the emerging performance field in Israel, founding the Dan Zackheim 209 Shelter for Interdisciplinary Art in the late 1980s, the Performance Stage, and Ensemble 209, and passing along her knowledge and experience to new performance artists.

Joyce Schmidt believed in the purity of paper created from the fibers of local plants and made paper a moral subject and object. Mirit Cohen expressed deep pain and a cry for help in a series of drawings titled “Mind Script” that displayed several body incisions in a very expressive way.

Like Efrat Nathan and Drora Dominey, Idit Levavi-Gabbai (b.1953) was born on kibbutz, a community that defined itself as egalitarian and utopian but succeeded in dealing entirely with neither gender nor the emotional welfare of children who grew up without intimacy and without warm parenthood. Gabbai dealt with kibbutz themes and the role of halutzot (women pioneers) through personal conceptual painting, later achieving a kind of closure in the group exhibition "Lina Meshutefet" ('Togetherness' The 'Group' and The Kibbutz in Collective Israeli Consciousness), curated by Tali Tamir at the Tel Aviv Museum in 2006.

In the 1980s, a number of women artists established formal “feminine” frameworks, such as the canvas as a piece of embroidery or stitching in the works of Naomi Simantov (b. 1952), Nurit David (b. 1952), and Jenifer Bar-Lev (b. 1948), whose creations also incorporated interaction between text and textile. The works of Miri Nishri (b.1950) were characterized by a strong sense of corporeality and sensuality through the use of physical materials and textures such as coffee, among other materials, as paint. The collage strategy of her entire oeuvre—including video-art pieces, endlessly moving from one subject, identity, or genre to another—expresses her "in between" identity as a young immigrant girl. Since her ongoing project "Is the baby yours" began in the 1990s, she has continued to explore questions of belonging and parenthood. Like Levavi-Gabbai, her approach is a combination of conceptual (in her case "mail art") with pictorial and manufacture art.

Tamar Getter, Deganit Berest, and Michal Na’aman set up feminine models as subjects of reference and models for identification and dealt with women and gender issues, but they did not identify explicitly as feminist artists. Michal Heiman enlarged newspaper photographs of both famous and anonymous women, adding captions about them and presenting a very different approach not only from what male photographers exhibited but also from women artists such as  Michal Na’aman, Diti Almog (b. 1960), Sigal Primor, and Eti Jacobi, who dealt with a feminine presence in their works, from which the signified—the woman—was absent. Michal Na’aman explored the question of sexual identity by creating androgynous creatures that challenge stereotypes of both femininity and masculinity. She also dealt with connections between blindness and castration and between text and visual image.

During the 1980s, art institutions supported and encouraged emerging women artists such as Michal Neeman and Tamar Getter, who represented Israel at the Venice Biennale in 1982. But the local consensus was still “there is no women's art.” As Ellen Ginton noted in 1990 in the catalog of "The Feminine Presence" exhibition, during her term as curator of the Tel Aviv Museum, "the artists themselves are totally silent about the feminine element, and actually deny its existence.… It may very well be that those women artists who refused to renounce the notion of ‘women's art’ were rejected” (Ginton, 1990). Female voices were not only silenced but the feminist propositions of others, such as Bracha L. Ettinger, Miri Nishri, and Dorit Feldman (1956-2020), were interpreted within a very narrow formalist context and were sometimes distorted or even misconstrued. The same fate befell the oeuvres of Pamela Levi and Jennifer Bar Lev, who were raised in the United States and studied art during the second wave of feminism there. Having no counterparts in Israel, their feminist art could not be understood, contextualized, and appreciated properly in its time; only belatedly was it received as feminist women’s art (Dekel). In this climate, the few Mizrahi women who studied art, such as Shuli Nachshon (b. 1951, Morocco) and Shula Keshet (b. 1959), were not encouraged to explore and express their whole identity; neither were women who had embarked on religious journeys, such as Nechama Golan (b. 1947).

Women artists engaged in research and critical writing as part of their artistic practice. Bracha L. Ettinger’s theoretical writing was connected with her painting and reexamined the description of female mechanisms and structures—structures perceived by Freud and Lacan as derivatives of masculine sexuality. Other women artists, including Tamar Getter, Nurit David, and Naomi Simantov, wrote important essays for catalogs and periodicals.

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 various fields such as anatomy, physics, geology, and archaeology, which in her view work together in harmony in art as in nature. Ettinger’s works involved intensive research and expertise in psychoanalysis, feminism, history, language, and the process of image formation.

The end of the 1980s was marked by two exhibitions. The “Feminine Presence,” 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 defined their work as “feminine” participated. The second, "Meta-Sex-94," curated by Tami Katz-Freiman at the Ein Harod Museum in 1994, reflected a new approach toward sex, gender, and sexuality through multiple media. The fifteen participating artists presented images of body parts, sexual implements, personal articles, domestic objects, hygiene-related items, eating and secretion, kitchenware, motherhood, women-soldiers, brides, feeding instruments, biological mutations, and consumption products. These works challenged accepted relationships of woman-mother, woman-nature, woman-home, woman-dirt, and woman-man, undermining feminine conventions.

However, at this time, most women art critics still did not welcome the possibility of gender-based art or consequently of female art exhibitions. In the veteran newspapers Maariv, Davar, and HaMishmar, critics such us Rachel Angel, Dorit Keidar, and Talia Rapaport completely rejected the legitimacy of gender interpretation, an interpretation that would have required them to examine their own positions as women art critics. The common denominator in their writing was to see female presence per se as a sign of symbolic gender equality in the field, as Angel argued: "The emphasis should be not on femininity but on personality." Moreover, "the glass ceiling " persisted, maintained in part by a large number of older women artists who continued to create, such as Lea Nikel, Liliane Klapisch, Batia Grossbard, Mina Sisselman, Hannah Levy, Siona Shimshi, and others; they saw themselves as artists equals to anyone but rejected gender perspectives on their work or the gender-based dynamic in the art field.

The 1990s

A Woman of the Pots, by Adina Bar-On, 1990.

Photographer: Avi Ganor; Institution: The Israel Museum.

Small Bather, by Deganit Berest, 1993. 50x40 cm, oil on canvas.

Photographer: Deganit Berest.

In the 1990s women’s art became more explicitly established in Israel, and both art critics and academics addressed the validity of a feminist approach. Discourse about gender and feminism gained increasing reception among the younger generation. Interdisciplinary gender studies programs were established, including courses about women artists and women’s history. The growing number of successful women artists demonstrated that the dominant discourse had become more inclusive of the female presence in local art.

During this decade, several group exhibitions of women artists in Israel dealt in depth with various aspects of female life experiences. The 1990s art scene was explicitly postmodern and open to international exchange and a number of women artists attained international success, with some working in Europe or the United States. These included Michal Rovner, Diti Almog, Sigal Primor, Bracha L. Ettinger, Yehudit Sasportas, and Sigalit Landau. Women artists worked with an awareness of the format of the painting as a work surface that allowed for the creation of feminist works and as a platform for the presentation of their artistic statements about their identities as artists and as women.

These women artists grappled with social molds; with female characteristics; with women’s bodies as material, as sex objects, and as a field of action; with women’s place in society, their struggles for identity, and their battle against firmly rooted images, dictates, and stereotypes. Yehudit Levin, who had formerly presented narrative figurative images in which the figures’ gender was indistinct, began in the 1990s to paint 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, and intentional interchanges between masculine and feminine. Diti Almog’s paintings stressed seductiveness and sensual charm. She proposed an analogy between woman and the work of art, both eluding male attempts to comprehend their nature and value.

Hilla Lulu Lin (b. 1964) presented her own world of fantasies and nightmares, from a 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 (b. 1966) imprinted her body on the surface of the work or urinated like a man; the traces of the act were the painting, in a parody of the female models men had created throughout history. Tova Lotan (b. 1952) and Tamara Messel used photography to focus on the female body, sexual identity, and 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 (b. 1957) 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  sentences with sexist concepts in an ironic way of confrontation by a deliberately "wrong" combination of objects, materials, and words. Marilou Levin (b. 1967) treated femininity as an intimate subject, not as a manifesto. She expressed the disparities between femininity as an almost heroic concept and the everyday reality of female existence and presented woman as rebel, aware of feminist revolt but in conflict with the obedience and submissiveness of the well-brought-up good girl. Yehudit Sasportas (b. 1968) employed smooth carpentry to create sculptural works that were hybrids of objects created from the domestic environment but with their functionality neutralized, undermining the picture of the home and of a normal world and telling of a personal and a cultural loss.

The women artists who constituted the next generation of artists working in pottery—including sculptor Varda Yatom and Lidia Zavadsky, with her large pots that were actually very powerful sculptures—reminded the public that pottery was originally a masculine craft requiring physical strength and high technical skill. They saw a challenge in giving new content to this charged, cultural, and firmly established ancient language.

The roles of women artists, curators, writers, and art teachers became more diverse in accordance with the dominant multi-cultural and interdisciplinary narratives in the cultural realm. Women curators proliferated in the galleries and museums of the periphery, including Galia Bar-Or (b. 1951) at the Ein-Harod Museum, Dalia Levin (b. 1947) at the Herzliya Museum, Daniella Talmor (b. 1948) at the Haifa Museum, Tali Tamir (b. 1954) at the Hakibutz Gallery, Ariella Azuolay (b. 1962) and Ilana Tenenbaum (b. 1955) at the Bograshov Gallery, Miriam Tovia (1932-2020) at the Hakibutz Gallery (1978-1979) and Ramat Gan Museum (1985-1987), and Drorit Gur Arie (b. 1955) in Petah Tikva. These women brought forward narratives that had been largely ignored.

To a large extent, feminist theories became integrated into Israeli art and culture, making possible a more emotional and biographical art, connected to everyday life. Many engaged in self-expression, even in confession: exposures of childhood, relations between parents and children, anxieties connected with motherhood. Some women artists formulated representations of female identity by means of contemporary realistic painting, incorporating direct or indirect statements of their individual views of reality and of their identity as women in Israel.

In some cases, feminist approaches combined personal and autobiographical matters that also served as points of departure for political statements. In the 1990s the socially and politically involved emotional-female voice found expression in a clear and assertive femininity following the concept that “the personal is political.” Mirjam Bruck-Cohen(b.  Switzerland 1943), for example, embroidered images of Palestinian towns and villages and of her experience as a refugee from World War II. Meira Shemesh (1962-1996), too, made use of autobiographical materials. She created a tribute to the women 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 Lit. "Eastern." Jew from Arab or Muslim country.Mizrahi culture with which she had grown up. At the same time she "winks" at the art world and the political discourse as it was present even in the name of her exhibition ironically titled "An Iraqi Expressionism," expressing both social and self-criticism.

Employing realism and classical techniques, Haya Graetz-Ran (b. 1948) expressed myths of sacrifice and the need to suffer in order to give meaning to life, an inseparable part of the values on which she and other girls born at the time of the establishment of the State of Israel 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 triggered many of her works. Tamar Raban created personal-autobiographical performances that reflected 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 (1951-2013), who experienced parting from her son who was drafted into the army as a painful division between “female” and “male" gender categories, 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 (b. 1951) 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 wandering journeys and the eternal quest for both personal and collective identity, from its cultural and ethical sources, via Israeli and Canaanite identity and concluding with the universal-Jewish identity.

A different approach was developed by Shlomit Bauman (b. 1962), who deals with research aspects of the field of ceramic design, drawing inspiration from cultural questions, technology, tradition, and design. Bauman examines ceramics' methods in a broad context of material culture. Her work combines art, research, curation, and education to understand matter and material culture as a way of life. Over the years, she initiated projects and exhibitions to promote a complex discussion within the ceramics field itself and the craft and design as well art fields.

Since the beginning of her artist career, Ariane Littman-Cohen (b. 1962 Switzerland; immigrated 1980) has questioned the contrasting image of the “Holy Land” and the reality of an up-and-coming, conflict-laden state. In 1998, through her installation “Eden Water,” Littman-Cohen used the biblical connotation as an ironic marketing strategy. “Holy Water,” ‘Holy Earth,” “Olive Oil,” and “Holy Incense” from the “Holy Land” packed in tiny bottles are among the souvenirs pilgrims and tourists find in shops selling devotional objects in Jerusalem’s Old City. From the 1990s to today, Littman has dealt with maps, which expose shredded, erased, stitched, and frequently changing sections of the conflicted land Israel-Palestine. Made of scraps of rough paper, censored, covered with colorful stitches she embroidered with her own hands, they have a similar structure to the territory. Littman-Cohen’s maps do not serve any utilitarian function. She wants to show that it is possible to deal with the "territorial question" through a female point of view and through essentially female rituals when she dresses and embroiders her wounded maps. Littman-Cohen chooses to cover the country's map with embroidered stitches; doing so, she performs female craft as well a caring ethical role far from the typical male manner of dealing with the theme in Israeli art. The act of dressing as a performative-cathartic act of healing is also evident in a series of works in which Littman-Cohen dressed monuments or olive trees and photographed them on video. She challenges the field the material, the gender and the political discourse.

Jenifer Bar-Lev’s canvases 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 (b. 1961) 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 discussed with a sense of freedom. Naomi Simantov offered meticulous, industrious painting that imitated weave patterns. In a manner similar to the act of weaving, she painted ornamental patterns of carpets with a fine brush. Talia Tokatly (b. 1941) gave voice to girls and young women by developing a ceramic process that incorporated embroidery with 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

Women artists of the 1990s transformed the status of women’s handicrafts—such as sewing, embroidery, weaving, colorful ornamentation and even kitsch—raising them to equality in the hierarchy of 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 considered a daring breakthrough and a model for younger women artists in whose works her influence is discernible.

The 1990s also brought a change in higher education: more academic programs in Fine Art and Design opened, as well as the first Graduate Fine Art program at Bezalel Academy. Etti Abergel (b. 1960) studied at Bezalel and developed her sculptures and installations based on found materials, creating complex imagery fluctuating between physical and abstract objects. Abergel’s works reclaimed both the sources of sculpture modernism and her own cultural and biographical sources. Her works attracted interest from international curators such as Francesco Bonami, who invited her to participle in the 50th Venice Biennale. In her installations, Abergel usually leaves everything life-size, piled; as critic Gilad Meltzer argued (Haaretz, April, 22, 2022, Galleria section, 4), "[S]he chooses not to choose. Quantities, not samples. Countless pencils, measuring tapes, brushes, nets, baskets and boxes, bicycles and ladder." Wandering is also a central practice in Abergel's life and art, connected with the theme of immigration and migration between cultures and sites as both a metaphor and a concrete material reality. Mixing Eastern feminist aesthetics and Western aesthetics, based on the modern grid model as a psychological infrastructure, she keeps chaos on the verge of collapse. Her work also engages "Mizrahi Masortiut," challenges the meaning of transgression in Israeli society, and disentangles usual boundaries between secular and sacred realms in general and in arts in particular. The re-identification of Mizrahi women artists as Masorti (traditionalist) as the convergence of a hybrid identity with critical anti-hegemonic and postmodern voices in the Israeli public space promoted a critical post-secular discourse.

Although the avant-garde galleries of the 1980s in Tel Aviv's run-down downtown, which attempted to recreate New York City’s East Village, had begun to close, two galleries in the early 1990s solidly and modestly challenged gender discourse: Gallery Studio Borochov and Bugrashov Gallery. There Ilana Tenenbaum began her curatorial career. Galleries also emerged in the A voluntary collective community, mainly agricultural, in which there is no private wealth and which is responsible for all the needs of its members and their families.kibbutzim. First in Kabri in 1977 and then in the 1980s and 1990s from the south to the north, more and more women took on curatorial roles in these venues, which had in the past mostly served as productive sources.  

These grassroots developments changed the balance between the hegemonic male center in the art field and the new women’s voices. Young women artists like Meirav Shin-Alon (b. 1965) and Ruthi Helbitz Cohen( b. 1969) exhibited their first solo shows in the Borochov Gallery.

Meirav Shin-Alon's art creations explore the connection between the physical and narrative dimension and raise questions concerning issues of identity, gender, and trauma through drawing on paper and site-specific installations. From her first exhibitions, her intimate work evokes the concept "the personal is political," as she explicitly declared: "My aim is to touch on the ‘silenced’….  On the whole it is possible to trace two axes that feed off one another simultaneously in my art. The first is a material, visual, sensual and emotional layer that raises formalist questions, the second layer is conceptual, critical and strives to raise questions about the artistic discourse and the art world" (Shin-Alon).  Since the 1990s, her works has engaged with body images in different supports and materials: painting, drawing, installation, artist-books. In some works, it seems that the surface of the canvas, the paper, or the wall represents the surface of the body or even the relationship between the inner hidden world and the outside world. The trauma breaks through the skin/surface and creates a state of external bleeding.

Body and trauma occupy a central role in Helbitz-Cohen’s work, too. The female body is the key to understanding her work. Dutch curator Beatrice von Bormann described Helbitz-Cohen’s work as a sort of re-construction performance in order to deal with trauma, loss of innocence, and male violence playing different roles: a clown, witch, child, or femme fatale; as a mythological goddess or historical figure; hanging from the ceiling, floating, lying down; fragmented in space, alone or in the company of other complementary figures. Von Borman emphasizes that Helbitz-Cohen’s women created contested images by pulling their bodies apart, by painting heads, limbs, or organs separately and then putting them back together like a mismatched puzzle, in which the individual pieces don’t quite fit. Beyond the horror, disgust, and pain lies a world of delicate beauty.

Women artists’ choice of figurative representation ran the risk of recycling the discriminatory images that created a seductive object for the masculine gaze. However, these artists subverted the analogy and offered art that was not merely an object. They employed humor, mostly of a grotesque kind, and self-reflexive irony; discussed the “other,” the stranger; and created a visual art that speaks about the need for sensuality, touch, and aesthetic pleasure. They dare to hold together beauty and horror.

In 1998, Khen Shish (b. 1970), who spent some years in Europe after her graduation from Oranim College, returned to Israel and completed an MFA at the Bezalel Academy, in addition to graduating from the New Seminar for Visual Culture, Criticism, and Theory, Camera Obscura. Shish works in a wide range of techniques. Her oeuvre includes paintings, drawings, collage, works executed on television screens, large-scale wall paintings, and installations. Her works deal with identity and alterity and introduce expressive sites oscillating between chaos and horror, nature and culture, refinement and excess, frugal and Baroque.

The 1990s saw a widening of the scope of advanced art studies in Israel and abroad, and women artists engaged in graduate studies in Europe and the United States. Contact between women and feminist artists was more intensive and intimate than in the previous generation. Dafna Shalom (b. 1970) studied at the International Center for Photography in New York and graduated from Hunter College of Art. Her videos and photos are displayed in private and public collections worldwide. Shalom’s works, which are both conceptual and emotional, raise questions about otherness, corporal fragility, and identity. Shalom was deeply familiar with traditional Jewish ritual and the Arabic language and dialects; while studying art in New York, she began to fuse gender, ethnicity, and ritual. In her series of video-arts that dealt with prayers and blessings, she proposed a return to the somatic. With the woman’s voice and her “talking” hands in the background, one could not but see in this lyrical work a challenge to the exclusion of the body, and of woman’s body, from the traditional rite and unquestionably a protest against the banning of her voice. By shifting the weight of the read or recited text—symbols and books (identified with males)—onto nonverbal language (sign language, woman’s singing, visual language), an additional interpretive stratum was evoked. Engaging the body, Shalom raised questions of race and racism dealing with “gender blindness” in Judaism as well as with "Mizrahi blindness"  in Israeli art and society.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, ethnic identity and gender identity demanded the right to be represented in the discourse and field of art, after years of discrimination, racism, social exclusion, and the struggle for economic resources. Furthermore, the intersection between gender and ethnic reclaiming promoted exhibitions of Mizrahi women artists and the emergence of Mizrahi feminist organizations such as Ahoti. The first art exhibition under this emblematic name was held in Antea, a multi-cultural feminist art gallery in Jerusalem of the organization Kol haisha (The Woman’s Voice). While the 1990s opened with "The Feminine Presence," as a sort of summary of developments in the 1970s and 1980s, the decade's closing challenged the previous waves of  Israeli feminism by celebrating a complex spectrum of identities, such as those represented in the exhibition "Sister (Ahoti): Mizrahi Women Artists in Israel,” curated in the Jerusalem Artist House by Shula Keshet  and Rita Mendes Fhlor (b. Curaçao 1947, emigrated to Israel 1970), with the participation of Rahel Dahari-Amar, Sigal Eshed, Shula Keshet, Tikva Levy, Ahuva Mu'alem, Shuli Nachson, Zmira Poran-Zion, Dafna Shalom, Meira Shemesh, Esperance Shenhav, Chen Shish, Parvin Shmueli-Buchnik, Rina Shmuelian, Naomi Siman-Tov, and Orna Zaken.

Summary

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 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 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.

Nevertheless, it is not enough. For a form, object, tone, movement, or projected image to receive meaning, it must be part of the symbolic system. The artistic object is understood only within the discourse and not before the discourse is established. Therefore, the role of feminist interpretation (in addition to class, gender, race, and religious intepretations) both contemporary and retrospective, is to animate the discourse. To generate a gender discourse today, a position in the discourse and in the art scene must be established concurrently. Only an interpretive consciousness can yield a new symbolic order—an order, as inspired by Bracha L.Ettinger, that would include not only the absent woman but also a matrixial place for women and men alike. The twenty-first century opened with great promise regarding variety and inclusivity, but the road to realization remains long and winding.

Sources: Essays in exhibition catalogs and review articles from the press, by:

Sarah Breitberg-Semmel, Galia Bar-Or Dana Gilerman, Ellen Ginton, Yael Guilat, Direktor, Kobi Harel, Ofer Ze’evi, Tami Katz-Freiman, Itamar Levi, Haim Maor, Rivka Meir, Dalia Manor, Ruth Markus, Sivan Rajuan-Shtang, Yehudit Revah, Tali Rosin, Ro’ee Rosen, Liat Arlett Sides, Smadar Shefi, Hadara Shaflan-Katzav, Ilana Teicher, Ilana Tenenbaum, Tali Tamir, and WGA  digital archive.

Diti Almog

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 earlier 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.

Jenifer Bar-Lev

After studying design in New York, Jenifer Bar-Lev (b. United States, 1948; immigrated 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.

Bar-Lev’s 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.

Adina Bar-On

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, against 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 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, filmed by Bar-On, was screened. 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.

Deganit Berest

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.

Berest’s 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

Miriam Cabessa (b. Morocco, 1966; immigrated 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.

Mirit Cohen

In the early 1970s Mirit Cohen (b. Russia, 1945, d. 1990) worked on heavy, rough wooden panels, which she wounded by incising, drilling, and breaking them, at times pasting on pieces of paper. 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 Cohen’s 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, Cohen 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 Cohen’s death, a retrospective exhibition was held in her memory at the Israel Museum. As the artist Joshua Neustein described her: “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.”

Maya Cohen-Levy

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 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 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  streamlining she had achieved in a long process of reduction of both ideas and 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, which again uses 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.

Nurit David

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.

Later David engaged in an attempt to combine the written word and the image, the way it is possible to show a language written on a surface, while the name of the series (“Father”) hinted at an autobiographical interest. These monochrome conceptual works were done on plywood panels and incorporated countless matches and letters that were pasted on the surface and created a relief.

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, 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 added autobiographical items, using an intimate, everyday touch that was also ritualistic in the way she presented them, looking as though they were lying in memorial corners. She presented the place of the written word by means of blank notebooks that were incorporated into the painting’s background and symbolized the artist’s refraining from speech and writing because of her aspiration to return to non-verbal contemplation.

Drora Dominey

When Drora Dominey (b. Israel, 1952) returned to Israel from England in the early 1980s, she became one of the instigators of the breakthrough by new young sculptors. Her sculpture was the antithesis of the heavy sculpture of stone and “place” hitherto 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 sculpted 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 Dominey 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 of cool eroticism, and a tension existed between the rounded feminine and sharp, straight masculine lines, between the formalism/design and the human story on the one hand, and the artist’s pain and self-examination on the other.

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. In her later 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.

Smadar Eliasaf

In the 1970s, Smadar Eliasaf (b. Israel, 1952) engaged in photography. 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 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. 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 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 she made during the minimalist and conceptualist period in Israel, counter to the “poverty of material” approach that characterized Israeli art at the time.

In the early 1980s, after a personal crisis, Eshel-Gershuni 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-Gershuni 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, which she expressed through 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 work’s character. Eshel-Gershuni also used Christian, pagan, and tribal motifs integrated with one another. The spectacular ostentatious abundance of material and creativity in the works expressed her 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 artists 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.

Dorit Feldman

In the 1970s, Dorit Feldman (1956-2020) studied at The Midrasha, the Art Teachers’ Training College at Ramat Hasharon; during the 1980s she continued her studies at the Institute of Kabbalah Research in the Faculties of Humanities and Art History at Tel Aviv University. In 1987 she attended the MFA Program of the School of Visual Arts, New York, international studies, in Urbino, Italy. This interdisciplinary background intensified the conceptual approach combining concept-body and earth that had characterized her work from the beginning. Her Body Art series (1979-1980) dealt with eco-feminism and pursued the unification of the cosmic categories  of women/nature with women/man as a whole entity. The images that Feldman employed included formal codes from ancient cultures that had developed ways of storing information and arriving at simplification and miniaturization while at the same time containing a kind of "hide knowledge." 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 signs of knowledge, as materials for the artist to work with.

Feldman’s prolific career over several decades focused on images of wide landscapes that integrate geological, cartographical, and archaeological layers. Images of abstract topography that are at the same time made concrete and symbolic landscapes appeared in her video art "The language of the stones" (2018), based on the partiture of Zipi Fleisher. These geo-philosophical territories present a combination and abstraction of Dead Sea landscapes, the Zin desert, Ramon Crater, Wadi Kelt, the Judean Desert, and Qumran caves and are simultaneously realistic and abstract. As Nava Sevilla Sade notes, "A highly significant aspect is that of the unique aesthetic created by the artist through her collages of mixed media, incorporating photography, painting, engraving and sculpture. The painting assimilates into the photography and thus becomes homogeneous, as an immediate metaphor of primeval geological layers" (Sevilla-Sadeh). Feldman welcomed collaborations with creators from various fields, including writers, poets, and scientists, and her oeuvre can be described as "art-based research."  

Tamar Getter

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 early Italian Renaissance conception of painting. 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 took 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

Pesi Girsch (b. Germany, 1954; immigrated 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 Israeli photography scene, 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. She designed and photographed complex ceremonies of distortion and death with quasi-pagan rites with a clean meticulousness.

The ritualistic scenes in Girsch’s 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 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.

Nechama Golan

From the beginning of her career in the 1990s, Nechama Golan (b. 1947) operated in a complex reality. On the one hand, her worldview became Orthodox; on the other hand, the artistic institutions in Israel were strictly secular, suspicious about the possibility of the development of art within the framework of The legal corpus of Jewish laws and observances as prescribed in the Torah and interpreted by rabbinic authorities, beginning with those of the Mishnah and Talmud.halakhah. As were other newly Orthodox Jews, or ba'alei teshuva, she was capable of manipulating a wide set of both secular and religious concepts. Her feminist artistic language was thus complex and layered, and she opened the door for other religious women artists.

In Golan's world, the word became a carrier of material essence, an artistic icon. In her hands, religious ceremonies and rituals became the object of an observant and inquisitive gaze. Over the years, Golan created an extensive and impressive body of work that includes installations, sculptures, and many works in mixed technique. She never hesitated to criticize elements in Jewish customs and laws that deserve criticism, and not an escape from touching "sacred matters." Her works decorate the covers of books of poetry and prose, and the manipulated photoprint "Women's Book" (2000) and the sculpture "You Shall Walk in Virtuous Ways” (1999) have gained iconic status. As David Sperber notes: “As a radical piece that does not align even with accepted practices in Orthodox Jewish feminist discourse. Like many works, Golan’s art does not simply duplicate practices of resistance or political strategy. In fact, she offers a more direct and detached position than is the norm in Orthodox Jewish feminist discourse. Golan uses materials that allow her to articulate a view that should not be verbalised in Jewish religious spaces"( Sperber).

Michal Heiman

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, Heiman exhibited photographs/objects in a space where the organization and 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 viewed 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, Kabbalah, 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, impulses, and desires (the body). The portrait of artist Aviva Uri recurred in her works; 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 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.

Eti Jacobi

In the late 1990s Eti Jacobi (b. Israel, 1961) exhibited her first paintings, which entailed a connection between classical painting and Disney Studios’ animation paintings. Critics related to these images as an expression of Israeli art’s sense of 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.

Jacobi thus 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.

Shula Keshet

Mizrahi feminist activist, artist, and curator Shula Keshet (b. 1959) was born in Israel to a family from Mash’had, Iran. She is a leading figure in several social movements striving for justice for underprivileged men and women in Israel. Keshet was a founding member of the Mizrahi feminist group “Achoti – For Women in Israel” and has served as editor-in-chief of Achoti Press. As a Mizrahi feminist artist and curator, she has initiated several exhibitions. Her exhibitions “Black Labor” and “Women Creating Change” embody the principles behind the vision and activism of Mizrahi feminist politics. “Black Labor” was based on a series of meetings, art events, and mutual-learning sessions for groups of Mizrahi, Ethiopian, Palestinian, and Bedouin women artists. “Women Creating Change” contained the portraits of 38 feminist activists working in the community and academia.

Liliane Klapisch

The painting of Liliane Klapisch (b. France, 1933; immigrated 1969) evolved from the abstract painting of the 1950s in France but preserved an affinity for 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.

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 construction but the fact of their being naked remnants set out in a geometry 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. Klapisch’s painting’s power derives from its simplicity and directness, and from the artist’s experience, which has developed in depth over the decades of her oeuvre.

Shosh Kormosh

In the late 1980s Shosh Kormosh (b. Germany, 1948, d. 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.

From the old, European-bourgeois-aristocratic culture, Kormosh 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, represented her works’ extreme integration of the beautiful with the disgusting, of the ornamental and the aesthetic with trash. She selected objects identifiable as belonging to the feminine, domestic realm.

Sigalit Landau

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, made it her home, and worked with the materials she found there, identifying herself with the life there.

Among other subjects, Landau engaged with messianic ideas and fundamentalism. 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.

Pamela Levi

In the 1970s, Pamela Levi (b. United States, 1949; immigrated 1976; d. 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 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.

Levi went 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

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 women’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.

Levin’s 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. 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.

Yehudit Levin

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 L. Ettinger

Bracha L. Ettinger (b. Israel, 1948) is an artist, clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst, and theorist. In the early 1980s, she made painting her major occupation, with the photocopy machine replacing and supplementing conventional means of painting. Her works’ titles 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 that means “space” or “vacuum,” which the suffix a makes feminine) described the absence of woman’s subjectivizing psychic space and the way language ignores her specificity.

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 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, 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, Ettinger developed a personal language 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 Lin’s works were written in a deliberately childish and faltering script that Lin designed herself and that became yet another distinctive characteristic of the artist.

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 film director David Lynch had on her work, Lin 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.

Tova Lotan

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. Her work had two tracks: 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, 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.

Idit Levavi

Idit Levavi (b. Israel, 1953) studied art at Oranim College during the 1980s and began exhibiting in parallel. Regarding her work in the 1985 group exhibition "Frontline" at the Museum of Art Ein Harod, Israel, Pinchas Cohen-Gan wrote: "Idit Levavi explores materiality and its syntax with sensitivity and sophistication." She combines the personal and the collective, a modality and a commitment engraved on her in her childhood on kibbutz.

Levavi developed a "word-image-object" combining sculpture, picture, and installation, using plywood, metallic elements, and "ready-made" objects in a single art piece. The sensitive weaving of those elements between the lines allowed traumas, pain, difficult memories, and disenchantments and built an identity narrative that at that time was mostly treated from the ideological male perspective. Feelings and experiences etched in the body and soul from early childhood were emotionally charged and shaped the life and the title of her works, as shown by her works in the 1980's: "History's Hairy-Chested"(1983), Thirst (1983).

In the 1990s and beyond, Levavi’s works took their place in the critical discourse, proposing, as Galia Bar-Or notes, a new perspective to examine "the price paid by [the] individual in a recruited collective society, the status of women, and the difficulty in constructing an intimate space." Levavi’s participation in the group exhibition "Lina Meshutefet" ('Togetherness' The 'Group' and The Kibbutz in Collective Israeli Consciousness) curated by Tali Tamir at the Tel Aviv Museum in 2006 and her central role in the 2005 documentary movie "The Children's House” (Beit- hayeladim) directed by Tamar Feingold illuminated this aspect of her work.

Tal Matzliah

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 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, images, and 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

For many years, Dalia Meiri (b. Israel, 1951) 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, archaic and technologically sophisticated, culture and pre-culture.

In the memorial sites she erected, Meiri emphasized devotion and 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.

Meiri’s works are sensual, a kind of body art, in that they convey the artist’s bodily and emotional sensations 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.

Michal Na’aman

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.

Na’aman made use of existing depictions and examined and juxtaposed meanings, but she 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.

Na’aman’s 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” she herself invented, 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.

Shuli Nachshon

Shuli Nachshon  (b. 1951, Morocco; immigrated 1955) studied law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and later psychology, art, and philosophy at the University of Haifa. In her late twenties, Nachshon started painting and sculpting and quickly moved to installations, video installations, and video art. Her early work included The Shadows refuse to go (1993), a video and installation; White tent - the laundresses (1994), video and installation; Blue whale (1996), a video installation depicting the artist interacting with wheat; and Food process (1996), a video and mixed media installation. Nachshon looked for an intimate connection to eco-sources (earth, water, air), creating her own way of renewing Mizrahi-masorti (traditional) rituals and bringing self and collective healing. Through them, she transforms personal memories into collective memories focusing on gendered intergenerational transmission of joy as well as gender-based traumas.

In her video installation Tvila (Immersion, 2002–2006), Nachshon also deals with her changing feminine identity as a breast-cancer survivor. The cycle of life and personal rebirth embodies both the bottoming-out of the familial female culture and utter loneliness. Healing by articulating profane and sacred signs and rites is part of women’s role in Moroccan Jewish communities—roles that generated admiration and respect that the modern, rational, secular Israeli Western identity denied and denigrated. Nachshon’s submergence in “I’m a Diva” is a spiritual womanly transmission of tradition.

Efrat Natan

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.

Lea Nikel

The oeuvre of Lea Nikel (1918-2005) has stood as a unique and independent chapter in Israeli art for more than 50 years. The acerbic coloring, the intensity, and the vitality that are 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 began in earlier decades. The scale of the paintings remained large, creating a colorful environment that 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.

Miri Nishri

The interdisciplinary visual artworks of Miri Nishri  (b. Colombia, 1950) have been characterized by a strong sense of corporeality since her first video-art, Blue-Blue (1981). Her video-arts and installations usually deal with the construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction of a self-identity, while raising questions about the nature of the artist and art.

The collage nature of Nishri’s art, endlessly moving from one subject, identity, or genre to another, expresses her torn identity as a fatherless immigrant and daughter of a traumatized Holocaust survivor. Troubled Water (2006), a video installation documenting the crumbling consciousness of Gita, Nishri's mother, also reflected Gita’s complex biography. In her videos, documentary materials are often merged with stage materials, and the boundaries between reality and fiction are often blurred. She tends to use coffee, among other materials, as paint. As she put it: "You could say that all my work is derived from the materials. I relate to physical materials no less than I do to literary materials, they are full of meanings and associations. For me, texture has always determined the subject" (cited in Guilat, 2023).

From a feminist perspective, Nishri was a pioneer based on her interest in the “mother–fetus” dyad as a valid theme in Israeli art of the 1980s and 1990s, even if its presence was only latent in  her earliest works. Animal images climb out of the materiality of the platform of the painting, mostly as a reiteration of images, unidentical twins of sorts, not totally defined and characterized by gross fleshiness, closely related and physically similar. Nishri seems to have given the nexus of creation, art, and birthgiving keen interest even before she became a mother. Her ongoing project Is this Baby Yours? (2000-) began as a two-year mail correspondence project. Nishri sent out 300 boxes, with an embryo painted inside each, to intellectuals, artists, and men and women of power. The boxes sent to both men and women included the question "will you recognize your paternity over this baby?" The 120 responses she received from people around the world were shown at the Ha'Kibbutz Israeli Art Gallery. In 2003, Nishri published a book documenting the project and responses and currently the project is conducted through the website https://isthisbabyyours.com/.

Tamar Raban

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 the person who institutionalized performance art in Israel and transmitted her accumulated knowledge and experience to new performance artists. Raban’s work in this field began with a group of performance artists in a venue she founded 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, and the various forms of time were some of the themes she 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 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

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). She used simple materials and part of her special interest had to do with relations between high and low, the desired and the fragile, illusion and sober perception.

In her installations, Rabinovitch 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, a hair salon, a vacant shop at the Central Bus Station.

Rabinovitch focused on Israeli reality. Beside the painterly elements, there was room for words, which she 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 Yom Kippur and from everyday speech, with the form and the content fused into a visual text.

Michal Rovner

Michal Rovner (b. Israel, 1957) did a great deal of work at the Dead Sea and its vicinity, where she created several series in the 1990s. At the same time, she 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 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 had to “play against his own nature”—against the habit of recognizing a particular landscape and 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; they 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.

Yehudit Sasportas

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 titled Tin Weight, Sasportas 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.”

Joyce Schmidt

The loving approach of Joyce Schmidt (b. United States, 1942; immigrated 1969; d. 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.

Schmidt’s 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, she produced paper and 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. 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.

Michal Shamir

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 transparent materials made it possible for her to work on nuances and to eschew basic values of sculpture such as volume and weight.

Shamir’s 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

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, 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 criticism in the newspapers. Sharon herself created projects—installations and performances, as well as “Mail Art”: photographs and texts sent on postcards.

In the Pulses project, Sharon designed meditative spaces out of tarpaulins (that she prepared and sewed) smeared with sand, which created a circular space inside an urban space and constituted an alternative to 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 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 was 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 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.

Meira Shemesh

The art of Meira Shemesh (b. Israel, 1962. d, 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, Shemesh 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, who 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.

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 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, Shemesh 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.

Naomi Simantov

Components that would characterize the later works of Naomi Simantov (b. Bulgaria, 1952; immigrated 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.

Talia Tokatly

Multidisciplinary artist Talia Tokatly (b. 1949) studied ceramics at Bezalel Academy and served as senior lecturer in the Ceramic and Glass Department there. During the 1980s, she also studied in Bezalel's Art Department. After her studies, Toktaly created figurative sculptural works. In 1987, she presented a solo exhibition at the Herzliya Museum, which included large-scale sculptures that examined the mutual relationship between the natural body and artificial abstract. In the installation presented in the 1988 exhibition "Another Material, Contemporary Ceramics," Tokatly examined the meaning of the elements of ceramic making in Western culture, presenting an ancient jug from the collection of the Eretz Israel Museum and dirt and pottery from an archaeological dig alongside pieces of porcelain, hair, and the fruit of a treated pomegranate.

In the mid-1990s, Tokatly began to create works referring to her family biography. In 1996, she presented a glass display box with a pillow made of ceramic material inside. On the pillow was a silhouette of an embroidery pattern, which was stamped on top of the glass. Other works Tokatly created made use of objects from her father's family inheritance. Decorative porcelain figurines, as well as other family items, served as a source for various works. In "Climbing Everest" (2006) she used a figurine with a dog pattern, which was reproduced in several copies hung, with the help of colored threads, on a wall. Tokatly’s studio is a sort of  "secret realm," where the artist creates her world of images and inspiration, bringing them to life. Most of her exhibitions unfold and refold the unique link between her family history and the animal kingdom, as well as the material culture items that populated her studio.

Aviva Uri

Throughout the 1970s, the works of Aviva Uri (1922-1989) 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.”

Yocheved Weinfeld

Yocheved Weinfeld (b. Poland, 1947; immigrated 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, Weinfeld 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 Lit. "the prepared table." A code of Jewish Law compiled by Joseph Caro (1488Shulhan 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 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.

Dorrit Ruth Yacoby

The work of Dorrit Ruth 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 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 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.

Penny Yassour

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, 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—onto 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 they projected. In the 1990s Penny Yassour went more deeply into aspects of a space composed of a primal internal reality and a space of external reality charged with historical and geographical contexts.

Varda Yatom

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 worldview 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 identity. But the personal, national, ethical and cultural history that one bears sentences one in advance to a fixed place.

Lidia Zavadsky

The series of pots that Lidia Zavadsky (b. Poland, 1937; d. 2002) created in Jerusalem and 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, Zavadsky reconstructed the form of the sabra cactus and 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, was originally a masculine occupation requiring physical strength and a high technical skill. She perceived a challenge in according new content to this ancient, enrooted, highly-charged cultural language.

Ofra Zimbalista

In the early 1980s, Ofra Zimbalista (b. Israel, 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 Pompeii, 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.

Bibliography

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Sperber, David. “Devoted Resistance: The Jewish Religious Art of Nechama Golan.” Third Text 34:6 (2020): 630.

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How to cite this page

Teicher, Ilana and Yael Guilat. "Artists: Israeli, 1970 to 2000." Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women. 25 July 2023. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on April 13, 2024) <http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/artists-israeli-1970-to-present>.