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Arts & Culture Art Show in Israeli Gallery Focuses on Unsettling Images

April 11, 2005
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The trademark white trailer, synonymous with the Israeli settler movement, floats into an ink black night, ripped out of the ground. Below the trailer, settlers and soldiers wrestle, punch and push each other while other settlers try to cling onto the gigantic roots that grow out of it. “The Trailer,” is one of a series of paintings and photographs by artist Motty Golan on the subject of Israel’s planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and part of the northern West Bank. The withdrawal, scheduled to begin this summer, will see the first evacuation of Jewish settlers from land Israel conquered during the Six-Day War in 1967.

Golan wanted to capture the pulse of Israeli society in the days and months leading up to this watershed event.

The exhibit, “Utopia,” opened April 7 at a Tel Aviv gallery.

“The art expresses the emotion and fears of society on the eve of the withdrawal and the fear of another political assassination,” Golan told JTA at the opening.

He said he feels compassion for the settlers, who have to leave the lives and homes they have built, but he also feels a need to speak out against the extremism often associated with the settler movement.

Golan, 49, who has a long brown braid that tumbles down his back, describes his work in what he calls “social art” — art that holds a mirror to society.

“I feel a real social artist does not work for money or museums but to capture important moments in Israeli history,” he said.

One of the more provocative pieces is a photograph of a pistol with the cover of a silver and gold plated Bible on its handle. The Bible cover he used is the one he received on his bar mitzvah, Golan said with a laugh.

He sent pictures of the photograph to several Knesset members in an attempt to spark debate on the mix of Jewish religious fundamentalism and political violence that appears to be brewing in the days before the disengagement.

Instead of a debate, there was a knock on his door. It was the police, who interrogated him for three hours.

Golan, a native Israeli who was wounded in the early 1980s during the Lebanon War, said the work was supposed to remind lawmakers that “rabbis are using the Bible as a trigger for the next murder.”

Another provocative photograph in the exhibit, with a similar message, shows a silver Kiddush cup, lying on its side, spilling blood.

The Tel Aviv-based painter said he is deeply disturbed by the seeming mundaneness of violence in Israeli society. What once provoked outrage now only prompts shrugs, he said.

Pointing out a work, “Still Life,” of a pistol photographed separately with everyday items — alternately next to an orange, an onion, a lemon, an apple and a carrot — he said, “Violence has become so trivial here. We don’t even pay attention to guns anymore.”

Paying homage to what Golan calls a “peaceful fantasy,” a painting titled “The Day After” shows a vast and empty emerald-green valley in what is suggested to be the day after the evacuation of Jewish settlers. On a hillside overlooking the valley is an Israeli soldier, looking exhausted but content, holding an Israeli flag on his lap. To his right, a discarded flack jacket and helmet lie in the grass.

In a companion painting, “The Evening After,” an empty box stands in the middle of a field. “There was no reason to be there so when they have come back their boxes are empty of content,” said Golan, referring to the settlers.

Wandering among the paintings, Carmit Bashrig, a reflexologist who works on pressure points in the feet, said she felt moved, especially by “The Trailer.”

“I feel like the painting shows the sorrow and deep connection to what is happening here,” she said. “You see the pain of the settlers, of them trying to hold onto the roots. It’s a powerful message.”

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