The Jerusalem Post

22.6.2001

 

 

Post-Zionist sex

BY MEIR RONNEN

 

In case you were not entirely aware, not only politicians are ridiculed here. In secular Israel, particularly since the exit from Lebanon and the sudden decline of the kibbutz movement, the nationís entire value system is daily called into question.

Yesterdayís military heroes, the generals who saved us from invasion, are no longer regarded as mythic demigods. Once upon a time their likenesses were hawked outside the central post office. No more. Officers today are just plain folks, like us. But many things change slowly, if at all. Women are still battling for equal opportunity and equal pay.

Three recent projects, two of them still on view at the Tel Aviv Museum, deal with these issues.

The first was a hilarious send-up in the form of a fake porno magazine, a color catalogue called A Light Unto the Nations in Hebrew and on the back cover, Great Scrolls of Fire; it billed itself as the first adult magazine of Hebrew lust. In it a half a dozen nubile and well-endowed young performance artists armed with various automatic weapons and either stripped to the buff or partially clothed in sexy underwear and black boots appear in a series of tableaux in which they threaten or dominate surrendering male soldiers.

In others, the naked girls are digitally inserted into famous images of groups of military demigods from the wars of 1956 and 1967. In the most startling one of all, of David Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker but wrapped in a skirt, the founding father of the state strides towards a magnificent bare-breasted young woman who opens her dress to reveal her pubic hair.

The real weapon here is feminism, not sex. Itís more about quite wholesome young ladies striking back. The photographs are not really pornographic.

Ben-Gurionís protege Moshe Dayan, a noted ladiesí man who appears in several of the photo-montages, would have loved this send-up for all the wrong reasons, but thatís part of the complexity of the sociology of sex. Incidentally, the magazine, conceived by Dana Michaeli (one of the models) and photographed and digitally edited by Honi Meagal, contains some feminist articles by academics and a curator from Ein Hodís Janco-Dada Museum.

 

THE MACHO image of young Israelis is challenged anew in the latest photographs of 34-year-old Adi Nes, currently on view at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. His latest, clearly homoerotic series the discovery of homoerotic work, depicting young men in the sort of poor development town in which Nes grew up, predates in age group his earlier work dealing with machoism in the army (a poster for his show at New Yorkís Jewish Museum several years grated on many subway passengers).

These works, like those of Honi Meagal, are all staged tableaux, artificially lit, even when taken outdoors.

The ideas come from Greek mythology and without actually copying classic poses, ostensibly refer to works like Rubensí Death of Adonis in the Israel Museum. But they really refer to the photographerís own childhood and the discovery of homoerotic attraction and his own homosexuality.

Some of the staged pictures leave one feeling distinctly uncomfortable, like the one that appears to be the prelude to a male gang rape. Others show older boys posing possessively with young ones, inevitably recalling the postcards and prints of naked Sicilian boys sold a century ago by their photographer, the notorious Wilhelm von Gloeden. Those full frontal nudes were posed as mythic Greek figures but never looked anything other than naked peasant toyboys making a liretta or two.

There are no nudes in Nesís work, only the occasional bare chest. In comparison with those Sicilians, most look as innocently wholesome as the girls in Great Scrolls of Fire.

In choosing models from his own background, Nes, who is the latest recipient of the Nathan Gottesdiener Foundationís $10,000 art prize, is simultaneously cocking a snook at the mythic sabra heroes of the kibbutz era and at the idea that homosexuality couldnít or shouldnít exist in the Zionist Jewish state.

In his next project lie will seek to reexplore the dichotomy of his own homosexual and traditionally observant Jewish roots.