The walls of two adjacent galleries near Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda market are hung with a diversity of interpretations of an unlikely object: the dress.
“Her Dress, Her Symbol: Antea Revisited” runs until May 25 at the Agripas 12 and Marie galleries. The show, curated by Rita Mendes-Flohr and Nomi Tannhauser, examines the subject of the dress from a gender perspective.
“The dress is the last piece of clothing that both sexes cannot use,” Tannhauser told The Jerusalem Post
. “Men can wear earrings, necklaces and have long hair. Women, of course, can wear pants. The dress is the only thing left for one gender to wear.”
She explained that women are strongly identified with this garment – so much so that it serves as the icon to distinguish women from men on bathroom doors and in most digital graphics.
“The dress plays an important role in the appearance of the woman,” Tannhauser and Mendes-Flohr write in their curators’ statement. “It puts her in a bind, for if she looks too attractive, she will not be taken seriously, invoking the stereotype that beauty and brains are incompatible. Moreover, she stands the risk of being blamed for harassment or even rape, for ‘asking for it’ by wearing a provocative dress.”
The exhibit is meant to raise these issues and others, while likewise recalling a unique phenomenon in the Israeli art scene, the work of the Antea Gallery for feminist art, which was founded by Tannhauser and Mendes-Flohr in 1994. The gallery, which remained open until 2009, was an offshoot of Kol Ha-Isha and was one of Israel’s first art galleries to challenge the conventional place of women in society and to let the voice of women from a diversity of cultures be heard.
“Women had already been showing their art in various places,” Tannhauser said. “That was not the real problem. But the question of feminist issues in art – this was first raised at Antea, before the general art world was ready to tackle this here in Israel.”
The name Antea – the goddess of the dark side of the moon – refers to hidden and unspoken subjects from the perspective of women.
IN THIS modern show, some 100 artists – mostly female, although some men did contribute – interpret the dress according to their own understanding.
This is the first time the two adjacent galleries are doing an exhibit together. The curators labeled and sectioned the walls of the facilities to tackle the dress from different angles, such as the seductiveness of little girl’s dresses; the vulnerability that results from the openness of the dress at the bottom; the bridal gown and tutu as iconic of women’s dreams; the uncertainty of many women about their appearance; gender fluidity; and the dress as an indicator of social status; among other topics.
Mendes-Flohr’s piece is one that examines the tendency to sexualize little girls. She shows a little white lace dress with an evocative shell on the chest.
Nearby, a work by Parvin Shmueli Buchnik reinterprets the Israeli children’s story “Hannale’s Shabbat Dress.”
This story goes that a young girl is given a beautiful, white Sabbath dress by her mother. On Shabbat, Hannale finds herself in a predicament: a stranger, carrying a large sack of coal, needs her help. She assists him in carrying his load, only to stain her lovely garment. But then magic ensues, and the moon comes down and shines on her dress, cleaning the coal and bringing warmth to Hannale, who brought kindness to the coalman.
Buchnik’s piece turns Hannale’s altruistic act into a situation one can especially envision in this #MeToo era: the exploitation of the child’s innocence.
Two walls – one in each gallery – are painted in a pop-out bubble-gum pink. In Agripas 12, the pink wall focuses on the bride and ballerina dreaming.
“All these works have some sort of broken dream,” Tannhauser said.
“The works here are critical of the bride rather than idealizing her,” explained contributing artist Heddy Abramowitz, “contrasting reality and fantasy.”
ABRAMOWITZ’S OWN photo of a Jerusalem bridal salon is hung on this wall. She said she took the picture in 2000 when she walked past a bridal shop with two stunning, flowing gowns, only to see a young woman hunched over on the stairs, tending to some mundane business. She said the contrast struck her.
“I am interested in the bridal gown, because I find that it sets young women up for a fall,” Abramowitz told the Post. “These young women have this idealized dream of their wedding and marriage. They want to be excited – and you should not punch a hole in their balloon – but there is a fantasy and then reality, and reality is what happens after the wedding.”
On that same wall is a painting by Shira Gepstein Moshkowich of a cast-off bridal gown next to a basket of potatoes, which according to the curators likewise represents the gray reality of life.
Sigalit Landau dipped a dancer’s tutu in the briny Dead Sea, “an act that preserves it, but also stiffens it into a pillar of salt that would wound any ballerina, or even cause her death,” the curators explained.
The pink wall in the Marie gallery focuses on the topic of “To Dress or Not to Dress.” There hangs the work of Rina Peled – a streetwalker near the old Central Station in Tel Aviv, captured in a thrown-away box.
“I usually don’t make feminist art,” Peled told the Post. “But in the last two or three years, I have been going to Tel Aviv and walking around in the area of the old Central Bus Station. It is a place like nothing else. And I see these prostitutes, and I take pictures.
“Here you have this old-lady prostitute, dressed in a cheap, tight tank top and a leather skirt that identifies her trade,” Peled continued. “In real life, she was wearing tight leggings, but I went with a miniskirt instead. And I placed her in a basic box, a cage in some way.”
There is also a wall called “Memory and What Remains,” and here you have a striking little work by an Arab-Israeli artist, Hannan Abu Hussein. She covers a little girl’s dress with ashes from the scorched earth where, in the curators’ description, “not much is left behind.”
Of course, not all the works are negative, just thought-provoking. Some of the artists depict the dress as enabling women to rise above her vulnerability, giving her new strength.
In Alejandra Okret’s watercolor, a woman rings a bell, letting her voice be heard. In Riva Pinsky Awadish’s “Brocade,” a garment hung on a painting brush is filled with seeds, a symbol for growth and creativity.
Tannhauser said that most group shows bring together around 15 artists, but she and Mendes-Flohr did not want to limit themselves. However, by opening the show to 100 artists who could “bring energy from all over the country,” they had to limit the size of the works.
“Movements like #MeToo don’t spur out of nothing, but bubble under the surface until they come out,” said Mendes-Flohr. While the show is meant to be provocative, “there is nothing vulgar or disturbing about it, so we can invite everyone in to look and discuss these issues.”For more information: www.antea-dress.com/