Shoshana Heimann: A retrospective

By the time the 1950s rolled around, Heimann had already made her mark as a dedicated wood carver, creating reductive primal works.

shoshana heimann 248.88 (photo credit: )
shoshana heimann 248.88
(photo credit: )
As fate would have it, sculptor, painter and printmaker Shoshana Heimann (1923-2009) did not live to see her retrospective installed at both the Hecht Museum at the University of Haifa and the Wilfrid Israel Museum at Kibbutz Hazorea. She died at 86, one month before the openings. Escaping the onslaught of Nazism, Heimann immigrated to Palestine from Germany with her parents in 1933 and settled in Haifa in close proximity to the studio occupied by the sculptor Rudi Lehmann and his wife, the potter Hedwig Grossmann. As a 10-year-old, she could only grasp the sculptural rudiments of what she witnessed in Bat Galim and it wasn't until years later, after curtailed studies at the Bezalel Academy in Jerusalem, that Lehmann became her mentor and most influential teacher. By the time the 1950s rolled around, Heimann had already made her mark as a dedicated wood carver, creating reductive primal works such as Pregnant Woman, Woman with Dove, Father and Son, The First Ones and The Last of the Thirty-Five. The last piece is a memorial to the bravery of the Lamed Heh (The 35), a band of Palmah soldiers who were killed during their attempt to reach the embattled Etzion Bloc during the 1948 War of Independence. It is a powerful depiction of a kneeling youth (Heimann's cousin Danny Mass, commander of the Lamed Heh), holding a stone as his final weapon - not only an allegorical sign of defiance, but of David's ammunition before his battle with Goliath. This carefully considered compact figure, smooth and muscular, relates to Heimann's search for a regional archaic manner of an ascetic nature by identifying with the Canaanite movement. The obvious similarity to Itzhak Danziger's Nimrod can be seen in the figure's flattened orientalized facial features, as well as his uncircumcised penis. Throughout her long career, Heimann traveled East and West, from New York and Paris to Nepal and Japan, always in search of the essence of culture and the spirit of time and place: elements that would give more meaning to her artistic endeavors. There were long periods where she stopped sculpting altogether, working more in two-dimensional woodcuts, paintings and drawings. But she would always come back to her initial love - carving in wood. Into the 1960s, Heimann's handling of structures and volumes in her figurative sculptures became more reflective, dignified with beautifully controlled surfaces and less concerned with the content of persona and their psychological attributes. In the works Woman on a Jackal (1963), Seated Man (1963), Fallen Angel (1962) and Two Heads (1963), there is a definite Brancusian conviction in the stylized manner with which Heimann has carved and finished the forms. After the euphoria of the Six Day War, followed by the trauma of the Yom Kippur War, Heimann ceased to sculpt and instead devoted herself to creating small two-dimensional eulogies. Skulls, mummies, jackals and ferocious diving birds were paralleled by her major theme, the Sacrifice of Isaac - a subject she treated in drawings, paintings and prints and whose main protagonist in the drama was the angel (in the form of spreading wings), not Abraham, nor Isaac, nor the ram. Tali Tamir, in her essay "On Lamentation and Death in Shoshana Heimann's Work," proposes that "a metaphorical 'womb' formed by the angel's wings… replaces the ultimate trial of faith with a compromising and protective female approach, which involves a renunciation of the sacrifice… Is Heimann presenting the angel as a merciful and protective divinity, as an alternative to the commanding and trying biblical God?" The 1980s saw Heimann return to sculpture. Trips to Egypt in 1982, '83 and '84 rekindled her interest in linking her work to archaic forms and "…together with the spiritual pull of the desert," to quote Gideon Ofrat, Heimann developed from 1981 till 1995 an entire line of audacious works, a few entitled Altar of Atonement, Construction with Horns and Homage to Peace. These massive four-legged pharaonic altar-chairs are often embellished with blue paint and large stones, signifying the ancient convention of burial without a headstone. Instead, rocks were piled on one's grave, as noted in the Midrash that "…each of Jacob's sons took a stone and put it on Rachel's grave to make up Rachel's tomb." The curators could not have found a more appropriate range of noble works to close this appealing comprehensive collection of an important Israeli sculptor. n Shoshana Heimann, A Retrospective, 1923-2009; until August 25. Visionary in the Desert, Hecht Museum, University of Haifa. (04) 824-9929. Standing on the Horizon Line, Wilfrid Israel Museum, Kibbutz Hazorea. (04) 959-0860.