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The exhibition "Disengagement" at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is on display within a year of one of the most critical and dramatic events in Israel's history. The photographs, video clips and installations of more than 20 photographers and artists revolve mainly around the disengagement, with a few connected to the security fence.
Most of the works were produced in the last two years and document events reflecting the controversies over the disengagement plan, such as the activists who streamed into the Gaza Strip and northern Samarian settlements prior to their evacuation and the evacuation itself.
The exhibition presents a wide spectrum of views and examines the influence these images have upon the collective visual consciousness.
"This exhibition is a surprisingly positive and welcome phenomenon, not typical of the Tel Aviv Museum, which usually doesn't focus on current voices," says Tzipora Luria, a college lecturer and art critic from the West Bank settlement of Ofra.
Although the Israeli public was exposed to non-stop reporting of the events before and during the disengagement, the difference between documentation and art is evident in most of the displays. Curator of photography Nili Goren culled the photos from thousands of untouched photographs. Many were commissioned for artistic purposes and not documentation.
Goren explains in the introduction to the exhibition, "In an environment of occupation, expulsion, disengagement and separation, it is difficult and perhaps impossible to create a photograph that does not take a stance. One moment of pressure on the camera's shutter release button eternalizes and echoes, in a calculated and esthetically meaningful manner, the terror and ethical weight hidden behind every possibility of pressing the machine gun's trigger."
Luria notes that "the selection of photographs is quality work. The selected photos have succeeded in extracting the more significant images from thousands of photos that covered the event."
The image of sacrifice based on motifs in Christian art is seen in the compelling shots of photojournalist Natan Dvir. A youth slumping in the arms of IDF soldiers removing him from a roof in Homesh in northern Samaria echoes depictions of the descent from the cross. Another photo of a family mournfully eating their last meal in their still-furnished home while soldiers stand by suggests The Last Supper.
"The photographers were aware that they were filming history," says Luria, who lectures on the history of art at Emunah College in Jerusalem and Talpiot College in Tel Aviv. "The exhibition presents a mixture of two different narratives. The disengagement came as a boom, an internal event affecting Israeli society, pitting brother against brother."
On the other hand, she notes, the security fence relates to the Palestinians and is an ongoing situation.
"The security fence continues a trend in contemporary Israeli art - telling the Israeli story from a Palestinian angle. Contemporary art, in line with post-Zionism, presents Israel not as the fulfillment of Zionism but as an injustice. The presentations at the exhibition continue this trend," she says.
For example, Shai Kremer's series of four photographs entitled "Infected Landscape" frames bypass roads dissecting the terrain where the security fence is to be constructed.
An imposing wall in the exhibition is made up of photos taken by press photographers of encounters between soldiers, Palestinians and Israelis involved in the struggle over the fence's construction.
The black-and-white photos in "Territory - Up to the Pullout" of photojournalists Eldad Rafaeli and Miki Kratsman highlight the Gaza Strip's bleakness before the disengagement. They contend that since most Israelis never set foot in Gush Katif, their knowledge of the region was based on maps and media reports depicting Gush Katif as a flourishing area with an abundance of agricultural produce and thriving communities. In contrast to this utopian image, their photos reveal abandoned structures, lookout towers and slabs of concrete barrier walls.
The only genuine voice of an evicted Gush Katif resident is that of Tamar Gur Aryeh of Neve Dekalim. A student at Emunah College, Gur Aryeh created the installation "Home 2005" with IDF cartons labeled by their contents, such as "Blankets" and "Books." The cartons are stacked haphazardly as if awaiting a moving truck. A video film framed by one of the cartons shows Gur Aryeh's family packing up their belongings the week before the pullout. Many of the evacuated families relived this scene, as they were relocated at least once more since August 2005.
Gur Aryeh's installation touches on the IDF's role, reflected in Eliaz Cohen's poem at the entrance to the exhibition "An Invitation to Cry" (translated by Talya Halkin):
Whispering, you ask,
"Have you packed yet?"
As if there were a bundle
that could contain
the longing to return.
Ziv Koren's close-ups follow soldiers in the various stages of evacuating fellow Jews with determination and sensitivity: training for the evacuation in the Chicago camp, receiving orders, praying at dawn and standing by the solemn settlers.
Belu Simoin Fainaru's works recall the spin of events leading to the disengagement decision and selling the idea to the public. A real estate advertisement states "House for Evacuation, call Sharon of Ariel Realtors." She created a ping pong table with a map of Israel, whose changeable borders are determined by a game.
An hour-long film produced by Noam Shalev for BBC presents Kfar Yam residents Arik and Datia Yitzhaki and their three young children during the year leading to the pullout, including the last day. Datia founded Kela, the Gaza Absorption Authority (as opposed to the government's Sela Authority) to assist the many settlement supporters who streamed to Gush Katif during the last few months. Arik Yitzhaki, a military historian, discusses with IDF officers his intentions to leave Kfar Yam in a proud way.
Osnat Krasnanski's photos were taken from January 2005 and follow both Palestinian and Jewish residents of the area, often stressing the absurdity of the situation. In one photo the landscape is strewn with wreckage, the skies are uncharacteristically gray, and an onlooker wearing a Santa Claus hat looks at a poster of the Chabad Lubavitch Rebbe.
The exhibition has been attracting a range of visitors including soldiers, high school students and settlers, some from Gush Katif.
"The settlers don't usually visit art museums. Perhaps this exhibition will be a bridge to the Tel Aviv Museum, stronghold of Israel's cultural center," says Luria, who was a panelist at the recent international conference organized by Shenkar College about the ambivalent connection between Israel's cultural center and its periphery.
"Disengagement" is on exhibit until June 17 at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 27 Shaul Hamelech Blvd.