The average museum visitor doesn't usually expect a punch in the stomach at the end of the tour - but this is how you might feel after an hour viewing the newest exhibition at the Museum on the Seam, "Equal and Less Equal." The museum, housed in the "Tourjeman Outpost" that was an advanced military position until 1967, is a rather unusual museum. Overtly socio-political, it is the first, and only museum in Israel that, according to founder and chief curator Rafi Etgar, "makes use of artistic tools as an international language in order to promote betterment of the society in which we all live." After an opening exhibition dedicated to coexistence in the region in 2002, and another one to the "Dead-End" of all violent conflict, the current exhibition deals with the situation of workers throughout the world and in Israel. It is a situation in which some people are equal - and some are less equal. The front panel at the entrance to the exhibition proclaims that "The principles promulgated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1948 should serve as the basis for a new outlook toward a more egalitarian, more liberal society with higher values." However, as the exhibition shows, these principles have been applied only in part and in specific areas. The museum now focuses on the "discrimination, exploitation and humiliation that so many experience," Etgar writes in the catalogue. The exhibition opens with a six-minute video by Techching Hsieh, in which he "examines the human condition in the shadow of clock-punching." Hsieh, who reached the USA in 1974 as an illegal immigrant from Taiwan, is pictured punching the clock every hour, 24 hours a day, during a whole year. When he starts his hair has been shaved; by the end of the six minutes into which he has compressed the year, his hair is long on his shoulders. But his eyes have the same look - the look of a man whose life belongs to the time that regulates his life around his work. While most of the exhibits are videos and photographs, Israeli Eli Shamir's oil on canvas painting stands out. Entitled The Rice Eaters, the painting depicts three Asian workers eating their meal - cups of rice - on the job. It is a moment of intimacy, a rare brief rest from the work, in a very rudimentary environment. The workers sit on cement blocks, without a table or any other facilities. The reference to Vincent van Gogh's The Potato Eaters is clear - 100 years later, poverty, humility and underprivileged conditions are obviously still the lot of manual laborers. Yet, in its time, van Gogh's charcoal drawing was a kind of social and artistic revolution. Shamir's work does not manage to progress beyond the protest, but his message is clear: throughout the world, workers are slaves. In this context, a series of three large photographs by Sabastiao Salgado from Brazil may be the most difficult to observe and the most disturbing. At first glance, the work seems more like a reproduction of the Pharaonic constructions of Pitom and Ramses - hundreds of men hauling baskets full of earth on their shoulders. From a distance, they look like an indistinct group of ants - this serves, not surprisingly, as the log of the exhibit. The work grabs you by the throat, leaving you speechless as you stare, realizing that this is how modern slavery looks, and that it's real, only a few miles from the carnivals of Brazil. But perhaps the most vicious statement is located in one of the most "peaceful" and "nice" exhibits. In The Brokers, by Finnish photographer Tuomo Manninen, a group of stockbrokers, all in ties and suits, are displayed standing by a red carpet-covered staircase. The environment is clean, characteristically Scandinavian. The eight men and the one (of course, blonde) woman seem to be of a very different ilk. Their surroundings are pleasant; they are well-dressed and apparently well-paid and well-treated. Yet the viewer is left asking him- or herself - no, these are not the most oppressed workers, they do earn good salaries. But they collaborate with the truly wealthy owners of capital who, daily, exploit and abuse other workers. Work is still a value, a way for men and women to earn their livelihoods and preserve their lives. Perhaps one day, the exhibition challenges, work will also be valued, even in what are now the sweatshops of Asia, Africa and even many Western countries. "Equal and Less Equal" - Museum on the Seam, 4 Rehov Hel Hahandassa, open Sunday-Thursday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; Fridays 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Tel: 628-1278.

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