Shades of black and white

Visual aesthetics and our appreciation of them are a matter of conditioning. That tenet lies at the core of Guy Morag’s ethos in putting together the “Yes No Black White” exhibition.

Dan Lev’s approach to traditionally black tefillin – the white is ‘a stark game-changer’ (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dan Lev’s approach to traditionally black tefillin – the white is ‘a stark game-changer’
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 Imagery is, of course, a powerful, persuasive tool.
Where, for example, would the advertising industry be without all kinds of pictures, icons and symbols designed to evoke the desired response from the consumer and, naturally, get him or her to shell out their hard-earned cash on “the latest” product? Visual aesthetics and our appreciation of them are also a matter of conditioning. That tenet lies at the core of Guy Morag’s ethos in putting together the “Yes No Black White” exhibition that forms part of this year’s Israel Design Season, which kicks off in Holon at various galleries and other venues around the city on September 9.
The Morag-curated show will be housed at the Beit Maierov Gallery, with other select Design Season locations including Hahava Gallery, Henkin Gallery and the Museum of the History of Holon, with outdoor shows taking place on Dov Hoz Boulevard.
The catalyst for “Yes No Black White” was political, feeding off the unrest that spread through the Ethiopian community in the wake of the infamous incident in April in which an Ethiopian soldier was manhandled by a policeman in a seemingly unprovoked attack. But at the end of the day, we are talking about art.
“I wanted to relate to black and white as colors, first and foremost, without any political connotations. I just wanted to take a visual approach,” says Morag. “Yes, this does relate to the Ethiopian protest, but I didn’t want to do just a political protest exhibition. If you do that, people automatically relate to it negatively. No one changes their opinions when they see a politically motivated exhibition. It either makes them angry or they like it. I wanted to find works that would pose questions.”
That, in a nutshell, is what art is all about.
Morag has gone for a broad spectrum of works, in terms of disciplines, composition and concepts. There are works by local and foreign artists in the show with, possibly, the best known of the lot being Spencer Tunick.
The Jewish New Yorker has gained global fame over the years for his nude shoots on a grand scale. He has created mass works in Venezuela, the Netherlands, Ireland and the United States. He has also gotten hundreds of people, of all ages and both genders, to strip off and pose en masse for him by the Dead Sea, and one of his desert pictures will feature in the Holon exhibition. It was taken at Ein Bokek and comprises around 40 naked women, one of whom is dark-skinned and is the only member of the group not looking at the camera.
“When I found that work by Spencer Tunick, in which you have all these Ashkenazi women, as it were, looking straight at the camera, and one dark-skinned woman who is ashamed, and wanted to be photographed without her face being visible – that was exactly what I was looking for,” says Morag. “She is the only one who is cautious about being photographed, and the contrast between her and the other women is very striking.”
What does Morag conclude from the dark-skinned woman’s singular behavior? “The Ethiopian community, as a whole, is very modest. We worked with Ethiopians of all ages in the lead-up to his project, and the Ethiopians were all very mild-mannered. It is almost as if they are scared of their own shadow.”
The latter context is an intriguing one in the color- contrast stakes. Regardless of our skin color, our shadow is always the same shade. The same, points out Morag, goes for prenatal images.
“You know, when they do the ultrasound check on a pregnant woman, you can’t tell any skin color differences from the images.”
The aforementioned Ethiopian protest took Morag by surprise.
“I knew Ethiopians from my army service and, later, in civilian life, and they were always the complete opposite of the archetypal Poles – they never complained about anything. So when they started rising up and venting their spleen – that was a real eye-opener for me. The first time I remember that anyone brought up the absorption difficulties the Ethiopians experienced here was [rock musician] Ehud Banai, in his song ‘Black Labor’ [from 1987]. The words form part of the exhibition.”
The first stanza of “Black Labor” talks about the “wonderful ancient tradition brought here by our darkskinned brothers from Ethiopia.” Banai also wonders whether Abraham was not dark himself.
The exhibition also includes works by Ethiopian artists, such as a poignant monochrome print by photographer Gideon Agaje which shows two Ethiopian youths after taking part in a demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence in 2011. Their faces are half white and half black, to indicate their inner sociopolitical dichotomy.
Sculpture also features in the show. Roni Landa’s twopart work is based on her take on the traditional cotton pickers’ work song “Pick a Bale of Cotton.” Landa’s tangible rendition comprises cotton plants in the form of white sculpted African-American faces, with brown leaf-like dividers between them.
The multidisciplinary lineup, says Morag, is designed to provoke public response.
“I believe that when you present a topic in many different kinds of forms, you get people thinking,” says the curator, adding that he purposely eschewed making blunt statements in the exhibition. “I don’t look directly at the issue of discrimination on the basis of a person’s skin color, because for me, there is simply no doubt that that is a bad thing. I wanted to examine the relationship between black and white, and what the colors arouse in us.”
The work designed by Arik Weiss will, presumably, provoke some cerebral activity, not to say an emotional response. The work’s two photographs, taken by Dan Lev, show white tefillin – a stark game-changer.
“You know there is no Halacha which determines that the boxes which contain the parchments have to be black,” Morag notes. “The leather straps have to be black, but not the boxes.”
Other items of note in the exhibition, which takes in some 40 works all told, include a naive-style animation video by Ayala Netzer; The Feast of Trimalchio video installation by the AES+F Russian collective, which depicts the evils of decadence; a visually striking video work by internationally acclaimed sculptor, video and installation artist Sigalit Landau; and an intriguing installation by Esther Naor, in which a standard white sink, and the white wall behind it, gradually take on various shades of brown as a mud-like substance spurts out of the drainage hole.
“I believe that the tangential approach to the subject will evoke thought and reactions,” says Morag, adding that he would like all Israelis to change their mind-set with regard to the Ethiopian community.
“You know, there were all sorts of waves of immigration, and they all gradually became fully absorbed into Israeli society. I know plenty of women from the Yemenite community who look like Ashkenazi women and don’t pronounce the het and ayin [guttural letters] the way their parents did. But the Ethiopians will always look like Ethiopians. It is up to the rest of us to change how we relate to them. I hope this exhibition helps a little bit with that.”
For more information about “Yes No Black White”: (03) 651-6851. For information about other exhibitions taking place as part of the forthcoming Israel Design Season: Hahava Gallery, (03) 559-6590; Henkin Gallery, (03) 559- 0021; Museum of the History of Holon, (03) 505-0425; www