Second-class citizens?

Yet another intriguing exhibit in an absorbing feminine tour de force.

Ryoko Suzuki's 'Blind' series addresses female sexuality and Japanese society's attitude towards women. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ryoko Suzuki's 'Blind' series addresses female sexuality and Japanese society's attitude towards women.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
If Raphie Etgar had his way, women would be running the show – the entire global shebang. Etgar is the long-serving chief curator of the Museum on the Seam, currently hosting “The Women Behind” exhibition, which casts a sober and aesthetically inquisitive eye on “gender relations and discrimination and abuse against women in our region and beyond.”
Mind you, there are some who might cite the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Elena Ceausescu – wife and puppet string manipulator behind her husband Nicolae, the final nominal head of Communist Romania – and even current Prime Minister of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi as unsavory examples of female leadership. Be that as it may, Etgar’s point about global male domination and the ensuing state of world affairs is duly taken.
Etgar is a richly experienced curator with decades of creative logistical work behind him. He has been presenting works at the Museum on the Seam ever since he founded the place, in 1990, and clearly has a vested personal ideological interest in the works he selects for display.
“Many years ago – and I can’t tell you exactly when – people went mad and decided that men are more important than women, and that men can do anything better than women, and lead the world. That has definitely been proven to be incorrect.”
That and other aspects relating to gender gaps, social conditioning and plain old, abhorrent, violence toward women, are addressed in “The Women Behind,” which traverses all the museum floors and display spaces.
All told, the exhibition features 22 leading artists from Israel and around the world. The subject matter is not always easy on the eye or heart, and relates to a harsh reality in which women suffer from discrimination, abuse and prejudice.
Ryoko Suzuki, a 47-year-old internationally renowned Japanese artist who principally channels her muse-fueled offerings through the photographic medium, employs crafted images to depict her feelings and thoughts about the designated social roles of women living in contemporary Japan. Her Blind triptych makes for arresting, disturbing viewing. The artist photographed herself with her face bound by a strip of blood-dyed pigskin which, she says, was designed “to demonstrate and visualize the oppression of women in Japan.” It is a no-nonsense work that conveys in no uncertain terms the power of her feelings about social mores and the way women are viewed in her native country.
AS YOU enter the exhibition, the first work that catches your eye is a vertically arranged yellow neon installation that simply reads, “What If Women Ruled the World.” The absence of a question mark may be down to aesthetic considerations. Then again, the artist could be straddling the fine line between query and statement or, possibly, posing a rhetorical question.
The work was created by Germany-based Israeli film, photography and installation artist Yael Bartana and is based on a performance work that debuted at the Manchester International Festival last year. The experimental theater and video project featured a group of women, all leading activists in their various fields. The cast in Manchester featured Israeli human rights lawyer Frances Raday, who hails from Manchester; American research professor in nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and security policy Sharon Squassoni; and psychotherapist and trailblazing anti-female genital mutilation campaigner Leyla Hussein from Somalia. Intriguingly, Bartana recreated the war room set in which the closing scenes of Stanley Kubrik’s peerless dystopian comedy Dr. Strangelove were acted out.
So the visitor is presented with food for thought from the word go. Seems a simple enough premise, no? But how many of us – men and women alike – have really pondered that option?
“In putting together this exhibition, I wanted to offer different perspectives, with a woman’s approach – I could say feminist – that asks us all to take a studied look and to reconsider the way we behave,” Etgar explains.
Naturally, the idea is to drive the message home to a particular sector of the population.
“This exhibition is really only for men,” Etgar notes. “They are the ones who have to think about things. But it’s wonderful that women come here and see that there is someone else who has provided an appropriate stage for them. But that is not the point. Men should come here and draw conclusions for themselves.”
Nelly Agassi’s video work Red Flame is one of the more strident offerings at the Museum on the Seam. Words are generally an efficient means of conveying ideas but, then again, words can suggest different nuances to different people, depending on the personal baggage we bring to the verbal fray.
The Agassi work draws you in instantly. It is an evolving piece of art whose bottom line emerges and crystallizes before your very eyes. It is a mesmerizing piece that will probably leave you with a furrowed brow and stuff to work through. It is a wordless video clip in which Agassi uses hand movements and facial gestures to render her feelings about violence against women. Red Flame grabs you from the off, and doesn’t let go – however, you may try to move on to something more easily digestible.
“People speak about feminism in reference to my work,” says Agassi in her exhibition notes. “However, that is not an issue that guides my work, but something that comes from within me as a woman.”
THE MUSEUM is, of course, very much on “the seam,” the interface between west and east Jerusalem, in more senses than one. It is located slap bang at the interstices between areas frequented and resided in by secular Israeli Jews, with Mea She’arim just a stone’s throw away and the predominantly Arab eastern parts of the city right across the road. That cultural, social and ethnic confluence is succinctly referenced by in Hidden Identities, by Cypriot artist Andreas Poupoutsis. The diptych features a profile and a frontal image of a characterless head tightly, and seemingly impenetrably, wrapped in a cloth – almost like a mummy.
Poupoutsis’s 2011 creation raises the issue of the “Taliban Women,” the secretive religious Jewish sect of around 10,000 women and young girls, from the haredi sector, who wear opaque-head-to-toe black garb. The outward aesthetic similarity between religious Jews and Muslims – the men are generally bearded and many wear large knitted skullcaps, while the women cover their heads and dress modestly – is apparent on the streets of Jerusalem on a daily basis. It is hard not to equate the so-called Taliban Women – a.k.a. Women of the Shawl – with their veiled Muslim counterparts, prompting contemplation on the dividing line and possible similarities between the ultra-orthodox members of different religions.
There is more in the way of evocative and possibly confrontational fare on offer in Custody of the Tongue (Veiling), by American artist April Dauscha. The two-and-a-half-minute video work shows a woman placing a lace sheath over her tongue, suggesting all kinds of ideas and sentiments. Dauscha may be implying the silencing of women in a male-dominated world. Then again, this may be an erotica-based work, or even some kind of wacky fashion statement. The jury is out on the slow-moving captivating creation through which Dauscha looks at her “personal experiences as a woman, and through them I touch fears, loss and separation.”
The artist says she also feeds off “traditional Catholic rituals and literature and, through them, I explore my own interest in death and life while using feminine materials such as lace, veils, undergarments and hair, as feminine symbols.”
Yet another intriguing exhibit in an absorbing feminine tour de force.
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