White noise

The ‘White Soldier’ has projects planned in ‘the backyard of Israel and Palestine.’

White Soldier 311 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
White Soldier 311
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
‘It’s an image you’ve seen so many times, you don’t look twice when you see a guy with a gun in the street.”
Yuda Braun, a performance artist, grew up in the West Bank and served in an elite unit in the IDF. He’s seen his fair share of uniforms and guns, a daily situation repeated thousands of times throughout Israel.
But when Braun takes the typical military getup and paints it completely white, the reaction is startling.
“Making it white, you take it out of context and it forces you to evaluate it,” says Braun, who regularly “patrols” Jerusalem and the surrounding areas as “The White Soldier.” In November he launched his most ambitious project yet: he recruited six volunteers to create a “white army” to make twice-daily patrols around the seam between east and west Jerusalem for a week.
“I’m trying to express the complexity of these things instead of seeing things as black and white,” he says.
“If you look deeper, you realize that the soldier isn’t taking a stand, there’s no flag, he’s not saying ‘follow me.’ I’m trying to discuss the complexity, rather than the simplicity of it,” he explains.
“I can never anticipate how people can react. I’ve been to Damascus Gate two dozen times, and every time it’s totally different. The past time, people were really friendly, saying, ‘you’re so beautiful, you’re a soldier of Palestine.’ Two months ago I was surrounded by group of young men waving their fists and shouting in Arabic.
“I haven’t figured out where it hits people, but it hits them somewhere they can’t not react. The reaction depends on what their outlook is on the soldier, whether you’re a Palestinian or a war veteran or if your son was killed in army. It’s a different relationship, but a very deep relationship nonetheless. Everyone here has some kind of relationship with the soldier.”
Braun’s work has resonated even with communities that are less connected to the military. “Once I was in [the Jerusalem neighborhood of] Musrara and this haredi kid, nine years old, comes up to me and pokes me and asks if I was the angel of death,” says Braun.
Other times the performance affects him more than it does the spectators: once, while “patrolling” in Ma’aleh Rehavam, an illegal outpost near Jerusalem, Braun said he was especially tense anticipating the reactions of the settlers, expecting violence. “People were super nice, they brought us into their homes and gave us coffee and cake. It was embarrassing because I felt like I had judged them,” he says.
Braun has been arrested three times during his performances over the years. He has been released each time without being charged. Though he does not interact with people during his performances, he knows that his presence makes the police and soldiers uncomfortable. “The presence of the White Soldier challenges the legitimacy of the police and their presence, and the monopoly of violence and force they use and misuse time and again,” he explains.
Braun was born in Toronto, and moved with his family to the settlement of Ginot Shomron at a young age. The 27-year-old artist supports himself by cleaning houses and is focusing his art on the White Soldier for the coming year, including a documentary film and a joint exhibition at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art.
When he performs, he uses white acrylic paint to cover his uniform, his gun, his face, his hands and his hair – anything that is exposed – to make him appear completely white.
In May, Braun will embark on a 10- day journey through “the backyard of Israel and Palestine, to places you don’t see in the headlines,” he says.
On parts of the journey he might use some of the volunteers he recruited during his fall installation.
He’s not quite sure what he’ll find on future patrols, but that uncertainty is part of the beauty of his performance.
“Any reaction or interpretation is legitimate… what you feel and perceive and do when you see my work, any reaction is OK even if it is violent or hostile,” says Braun. “I just want to raise these questions.”