In case you haven’t noticed, there is an enormous gefilte fish sitting on top of Bialik House in Tel Aviv. Few passers-by take the time to glance up at the ornate building’s roof. However, from inside the adjacent and newly renovated Town Hall, you can catch a perfect view of the carrot-adorned appetizer through a specially positioned telescope.
“You know,” giggles Ze’ev Engelmayer as he approaches the window on the second floor of Town Hall (Beit Ha’ir), “I said I needed a telescope for people to see the gefilte fish, and just like that the people from the Tel Aviv Municipality made it happen.”
Engelmayer, 54, aka Shoshke, spent the better part of the morning walking through his epic exhibition, “The Prom-Ass-Ed Land.”
The veteran illustrator, Facebook personality and visual artist casually strolled from room to room, pointing out his favorite artistic/ vandalistic highlights.
This exhibition, which came at the behest of the municipality, took what Engelmayer intended as a break from rest to rigor.
“I spent two years on a book [Journey to Vulgaria], and then I thought I would go on holiday. Then this happened,” he says.
At the entrance to what was once Tel Aviv mayor Meir Dizengoff’s office, Engelmayer stops to consider the embossed silver letters. Next to the Hebrew “Meir,” he scrawled “Engel” in black Sharpie.
“I didn’t ask anyone if I could do that,” he smiles mischievously, “but once they saw it, they liked it.”
Engelmayer heads into the pristinely preserved office, a paper cup with steaming black coffee in his hand.
“Did you know that Dizengoff was arrested twice for swimming in the nude? The story goes that he was stopped by a police officer, who gave him a ticket. He took the ticket and continued to swim naked. I really like that,” he says.
The spirit of disobedience that Engelmayer identified in Dizengoff is rife in his exhibition. The historic space is charged with cynicism and dark humor.
His images portray Israeli politicians in naughty moments, biblical stories depicted through magazine collages with speech bubbles, and even a second floor for adults only. Robots roam the floor, a giant gefilte fish mobile creaks on the ceiling, and an erotic voiceover echoes from a distance. Visitors are invited to lean on one of Shoshke’s enormous poof breasts or turn their tears into salt in a device that Engelmayer invented.
“It doesn’t really work,” he says as he passes it.
There is a sense that the exhibition has given a home to many pieces of Engelmayer’s imagination, from visions and political commentary to massive toy and magazine collections.
The first lady of the exhibition, who is featured throughout the three floors, is the cartoon character Shoshke. She is a blond, busty gal, a fun-lover and party animal.
For the opening of the exhibition, which took place in the summer, Engelmayer decided to step out of the backstage and perform. Decked out in a Shoshke body suit, he greeted his crowd. The original plan was to arrive via helicopter, but at the last moment he changed course and went with the classic “emerging from an oyster” scene.
“I was in there for like four hours in the hot sun. I thought I was going to die. I had all this time to think about what people would say when they found me dead inside the clam. I even tried to arrange my body so that it would look good when they found me,” he says.
Luckily, Engelmayer survived the oyster and went on to fully inhabit the being that is Shoshke.
In the past few months, Shoshke’s performances have grown in number, bringing the carefree cartoon to the streets of Tel Aviv and farther afield.
“I’ve gotten non-stop requests for Shoshke’s presence. Shoshke was recently in Paris,” says Engelmayer.
“She presided over a wedding.
She met a group of Iranian women on the Champs Elysees and played around with them, taking pictures and videos. She was asked to be the lead singer of a band, so she said yes. Shoshke has no inhibitions.”
Shoshke’s recent foray into the fashion world brought an alternative runway show to Town Hall. Fifteen designers, among them Dekel Bar, Ziv Cohen and Ronit Portal, created looks inspired by Engelmayer’s artwork for the Shoshke Couture show. These pieces are on display as part of the exhibition.
As for future plans, Engelmayer is cooking up a children’s book, featuring a similarly uninhibited and fun-loving camel.
“I may even become him, too,” he smiles.‘The Prom-Ass-Ed Land’ is on display until the end of January at Town Hall in Tel Aviv. For more information, visit www.beithair.org.