Elik Mishori – Messita (Inciting)
2007 | Exhibition catalog text
Appeared on the catalog of an exhibition on the “Open University Campus in the name of Doroti De-Rotshield”, Raanana, February-March 2007. Exhibition catalog (PDF)
Haya Gretz-Ran “talks about it”
Haya Gretz-Ran is used to creating a series of paintings. The seriality allows her to investigate an issue in-depth and repeat it with variations. She refreshes her memories from childhood by reviewing family photos, not necessarily personal, and on some of them she bases her formal researches. Photos are taken from albums of pioneers’ sons in the Land of Israel in the 20s and 30s of the twentieth century and also from her own family albums, where she, her parents and three sisters were commemorated.
She first references directly the old photos she has collected. Then she tries to adapt photo to painting format and draw it close to the message she tries to deliver through it. Most of the photos that she collected are personal portrait photos or collective photos of family and anonymous family members taken by professional photographers. All photos, with no exception, are staged photos; the “placement” and photographed persons directing how to “stand in front of the camera” is very conspicuous in them. The photographers are those who place the photographed persons in their desirable photographing position although they do not always achieve the facial expression they want. Photographer actions are therefore composed of opposites. On one hand, they strive to attain a directed expression, and one the other hand, they strive toward a “naturalism” illusion in a way that the photo will reflect typical characteristics of the person commemorated in it. The result is that sometimes the position in the photo is forced somehow, but the expression is natural, and this supplements the photograph with a terseness of contrasts.
Gretz-Ran is aware of this contradiction and chooses to stress it. On one hand, her figures stance take on familiar positions of directed photographing, a consent to photographers who “know” how one should be photographed. On the other hand, in some of her works she focuses on personal expression. This is how she extradites the photographed person’s consent or refusal to obey photographer’s orders. In the Sisters work, for instance, a typical portrait of “good” girls is provided: the short hair is gathered with a white band and tied in a decorative knot. Both girls are positioned as if a mirror separates between them displaying an image and a reflection, but the expressions show that this is about two different characters: the right one obeys the photographer, while the left one looks at us, the observers, defiantly, as declaring: “I do what I want and my sister does what she wants!”.
Photographs utilization requires the artist to respect the photographed subjects’ privacy, meaning to try and present the least individual details as possible that may identify them. Human faces are, of course, a first-class identification means. And here it is, the only characters in Gretz-Ran’s art work, whom their faces allow their identification, are taken from private photos of her family members. When dealing with strangers’ details, she commits herself to respect their privacy. She minimizes the individual details identifying them for the sake of keeping secrecy. Gretz-Ran’s visual images are being cut off at their head; the artist is satisfied with displaying a painted figures’ body without their heads. Such a display form confiscates the individual aspect from the painted figures and turns them into representative characters.
Haya Gretz-Ran’s paintings focus on three life stages: girl, teenage, adult. Seemingly, all the women represented in the paintings are innocent and pure. They reflect the pioneer settlement days in the Land of Israel and the 50’s cultural world values – the artist’s childhood days. However the description does not come from a nostalgic yearning, but from a current and realistic perspective. She crosses the individual identity with the national one, attempting to evaluate what the materials were, that formed the man and woman in her generation.
“Myth”, Orly Lubin quotes Rolan Berth, “was intended to turn culture into nature, or at least, the social, cultural, ideological, historic – to natural”, or, in other words, to everything that is “obvious”, which is in a sense of “the common sense”, “healthy logic”, “norm”, “the acceptable position” . The myth was intended to turn social convention into natural, incontestable, fact. The intellectual’s function, according to Berth, is to dismantle the myth; show that it is not a fact but a convention only. Myth dismantling allows whoever exists within the cultural boundaries, who was compartmentalized from the center of accomplishment and cultural representation, to keep on needing that culture without being a partner in the depression, exclusion and self-cancellation operation, which might stem from the partnership being in agreement with the myth positions and its judgments. This way the compartmentalized and those represented as inferior, to keep on being part of the culture, while offering what Berth demands, actually from the intellectual only: the myth dismantling, the representation of the alternative story over the mystic story, which is generally presented as the one and only real story . This is exactly what Gretz-Ran is doing in the series of paintings presented in the exhibition.
“We better not talk about it”, was a sentence commonly-used in many houses in Israel. It came about to cover up, with an expression of imaginary happiness, difficult and painful things experienced by many on the way to realizing the national myth. The artist examines some of the Israeli myths via her painted figures, and using them she penetrates beneath the external envelope, to things for which silence was better for them and provides an opinion of them: in other words, she dismantles the myth.
Some of The Pioneers portraits are painted on cutting boards. The scratches and singe signs drawn by knifes and hot pots and pans are interlaced into the weave of faces painted as scratches, ambivalently, and sharpen the pioneer portrait as if she was a martyr. The sacred Jewish woman myth does not begin, naturally, in the Jewish populating period in the Land of Israel; its roots in the Jewish culture are deep, and were drawn in the collective memory of the pioneers that came from Europe. In Y. L. Peretz’s Three Gifts story, a sinner soul of a Jew goes wandering around the world hoping to find three gifts (deeds) thanks to which the gates of heaven will open for it. The second gift the soul brings with it is one brooch of many brooches used by a beautiful young Jewish girl to pin “her dress hem to the flesh of her legs, so as not to expose her flesh…”. The only sin of the young girl was when she left the ghetto of the town, resulting in a heavy and atrocious punishment to be inflicted on her: “she is to be tied with her braids to a tail of a horse and the horse shall be set free, and will drag her while galloping through the streets… […] she will wash away the slant she strained with her impure eyes to see with the blood of her wounds”. She becomes sacred in her willingness to suffer harsh agonies in order to keep her modesty.
Gretz-Ran’s sacred pioneer women also keep their modesty, which is expressed in the simplicity of the functional dress, and the head cover from which a braid hangs down to the chest. Braiding the hair stands in contrast to disheveled hair and therefore a question arises; when does the pioneer woman let her hair down and in front of whom. Unleashed hair has erotic and intimate cementations since it is associated with home and the bedroom, however braided hair, the established pioneer’s hairstyle during the day, which is dedicated for the collective, is of course intimate-free. Gretz-Ran’s pioneer paintings stress the modest-martyr aspect of these women.
In his book The Cactus – Portrait, where Oz Almog wanted to grasp the Zabar-Israeli cultural characteristics, he outlines a portrait of the “Zabar” figure using visual characteristics: “barefootedness, sandals and funny forelock”. From Almog’s research an impression is received that the Zabar women had no unique visual qualities of her own, because the author did not define such a thorough external description for her as was defined for the man. According to Almog’s research, the Zabar woman was only a feminine version of the Zabar man. Gretz-Ran’s paintings supplement what is missing: while the pioneer man’s masculine stereotype figure appears with bare legs and body transmitting permissiveness, the stereotype pioneer woman is associated with modesty. From pioneer women, the braids were heritable to the Zabar “good girl”; the Jewish modesty was indeed violated slightly in them, but the braid’s function as a dominator of “order and cleanliness” remained unchanged.
The terms “good girl”, “calligraphy”, “short pants”, “white dress” – the names Gretz-Ran named the painting series – were commonly used in the period she focuses on, until the words were stuck to each other. From them another term was born, also well known: “good family”. In 1956 the Israeli weekly DVAR HASHAVUA distributed a questionnaire to the readers, in which they were asked to recommend candidates for “the housewife contest”. Winners of this contest were about to receive expensive rewards: a washing machine, sewing machine, gas stoves, electric refrigerator, a set of Plalum pots and a supply of SHEMEN products. All prizes were intended to maintain the Israeli woman’s position in the kitchen.
“Do you feed your children?”, one of the contesters were asked.
Do you play with them, tell them a story, sing to them, take them for a walk?
Do you punish them or tell dad?
Do you decorate the house with pictures, beautiful things, flowers?
Are you strict on having nice clothes for you and your house members?
Which handicrafts do you like the most?
Do you find time to take a rest during the day?
Do you go out for visits, theatre, cinema, concerts, lectures?
Are you happy to receive guests?
Do you make preserves?
Do you have any work saving advice for the young housewife? in laundering, ironing, sewing, cooking, baking, handling children?
Do you like housekeeping, are you happy being a housewife?
Haya Gretz-Ran, her three sisters and their mother participated in the contest. The father of the family, in accordance with the 50s’ norms and value codes, was left out of the picture. Five women of the family were supposed to demonstrate perfection opposite the auditor who came to their house. We can never know whether Haya Gretz-Ran’s mother indeed “decorated her house with beautiful things and flowers”, “punished the daughter or told dad” about their sins. What is clear is that the auditors revealed something in her behavior that stood in contradiction to the contest’s criteria, and therefore, the mother has not been declared as the “1956’s Excellent Housewife”.
The childhood memories associated with “The Excellent Housewife Contest” keep occupying Hata Gretz-Ran over and over again and particularly the mother’s attempt to be strict on “having appropriate clothes for her house members”. Every “good girl” from a “good family” has a white dress, such as the one Hanale’s mother sewed in the ” Hanale’s Saturday Dress” story: “a new Saturday dress, white dress”. Hanale, as mentioned, stained her Saturday dress. Her pangs of conscience concerning her mother, who worked so hard for her, bring her to cry: “Hanale started crying, Vai, Vai, the white Saturday dress, mother sew her, and only today she wore it for the first time, Vai! How will she go home? How will she see the sorrow of her mother? Vai!”.
Beyond the folk content, a moral arose from the story, which generations of kindergarten children were educated on, the harnessing of the “good girls” to the effort of realizing the ideal family myth is presented in a stereotype fashion. They were forces to continue with the “pioneering” way and function as “good girls”. In spite of the white dress sewn by their mothers, the Gretz-Ran’s painted girls are far from being perfect; something in them always violates the perfection and presents them as defective. We can intensify this defect from the personal experience we accumulated, and add to it various symbolic aspects till we witness the myth dismantling.
The original document:
‘Housewife’, ‘Dvar Ha’shavua’ Newspaper, 1956.
Every woman who considers herself a good housewife, as well any person or institute that know a woman who excels in her duty as a housewife – are asked to make a proposal to the competition of “Housewife 1956”
How to send the proposal
Please fill the questionnaire and send it to the board of “Dvar Ha’Shavua”(…). A special committee will review each and every piece.
The winner of the competition will receive valuable prizes such as: A washing machine, a sewing machine, a radio, a stove, a refrigerator, a set of pots, products of a soap brand, and many other prizes.
The Principle duty of the mother
In my opinion, it is a very substantial duty being a housewife. Her obligations are innumerable, but the most important of them is – educating the children, which is mostly under the mother’s responsibility. The mother has to love this duty and give herself to it in all of her heart; the satisfying results will follow shortly.
This is the 10th year that my daughter is going to school. In all these years, not even once, was she late to the class neither came back home late. It is important, that the child, coming back home from school, will find an open door, a prepared meal and his mother, awaiting to welcome him and hearing about his day, on all these hours on which he was absent from home. This is how I do for all these years, and I am full of joy with the wonderful outcome. My children excel as pupils and also are exceptional friends to their parents. My daughter studies in a high school. Since age 13 she earns, by giving private lessons, all her expenses – study-books and theater shows. I do not take on my account only their success at school, but I do have a big share on it. I was always concerning and helping to my children and took care of their peacefulness and a tidy home.
My children are not delaying in their way home from school, since they know that at home their mother waits, with an open ear, to share with her their experiences, successes and difficulties with friends and at the classroom.
I honor the mother, that helps with the house’s economy, but I think that if it is not essential – she must not do it, because in a matter of fact, it comes on the children’s account, that need so much of the mother’s love and warmth. In her absence from home, she is unable to give much to them.
The woman can earn a living also from home. Sewing can be learnt at courses; shopping can be done once a week at the market; and more.
Not always, however, can the woman satisfy with her duty at home. The options are many in social activities. On evenings she can attend lectures, take part of activities in women organizations and find social satisfaction. But the most important obligation of the mother is – Educate children loyal to the nation, to the parents and teachers, and this is her duty to take care of it.
Rivkah Pundak, Holon
Mother has a good mood
Few weeks ago it was still hard and my mother worked at her shop and we were much time alone at home. But now it is wonderful. My mother do the house economy before noon and on afternoon she is available. And she always have a good mood. When she do the house work, she sings. Even my little sister, only 5 years old, sings already my mother’s songs. When we sit for lunch and dinner, mother makes wonderful dishes with mayonnaise, stuffed tomatoes and such.
When mother was still working at the shop, it was I who did all the shopping and I help mother with willingness, because my mother is always happy that I do something for her, therefore it is happiness for me too. My mother laughs all the time, even when something is wrong. She never says: do that or that! She says that she doesn’t like being ordered and what is disliked by you you shouldn’t do to the other.
Sewing machine – this is the first thing my mother bought for herself when she got married, because she sews everything for herself and for my sister by herself. She draws the dresses and then sews them. My father said that with any other woman than my mother would he arrive so far. I can write for you much more – for example, that the three of us are used to go the sea together with mother. When there is a children movie in the cinema, then we go the three of us. Once I invited my mother to a movie and we went just the two of us. It was very beautiful. In the recession I bought a chocolate bar for me and my mother and felt very good, all thanks to my mother. Now my hand is aching already.
Greeting from Nahariya and don’t forget the prize.
Michael Rauchberg (11 years old) , Nahariya.
A blessing to the enterprise
Gladly, I read all the articles and letters that appeared at “Dvar Ha’Shavua” following the housewife competition. I am all prayer that this enterprise would succeed and a woman of the community would be selected that represents the character of the woman and the mother as we would like to see her at our country: a good housewife and a devoted mother that can preserve her personality and give her children social and cultural values.
I wish you success. Carry this enterprise of yours properly, and no doubt, most of the women in the country will receive happily the opportunity to give expression to their thought and feelings in an area of life that is so important that unfortunately serves quite often as a comic material.
A senior housewife
Shoshana Bugginn, Kfar Sava.
In the margins of the questionnaire
When my husband went over the questionnaire together with me, he said: “It appears that you are a perfect housewife by the questions in this questionnaire”.
Such a discovery after six years of marriage – and even this only thanks to a questionnaire!
Ruth Schweimer, Nir-Moshe, a moshav at the Negev.
Country of origin
Year of Immigration
No. of people at home and ????
profession (besides housekeeping):
Place of work
How many hours do you work in your occupation.
Do you assist your husband (home and outside)
Profession of the husband
Conditions of residence
Do you have a made(full day, half a day, hourly)
Do the children help in the housekeeping? Willingly?
Do the husband help in the housekeeping?
Are you using any appliances in the housekeeping? Which?
Do you run the housekeeping along a budget?
How much do you spend monthly: Feed and cloth, education and culture, taxes etc. (sums or percentage)?
Do you manage to save money?
Do you make an effort to buy locally produced goods?
Can you assess the quality of fabrics, foods, ornaments etc.?
Do you know the prices of goods?
Do you concentrate your shoppings? (In the market? In the grocery? In a private store?)
Do you prepare in advance a list of groceries or choose from what you see in the store?
Do you decorate the house with images, objects, flowers?
Do you take care of a good looking clothing for you and your family members?
Is there a fixed place for each object and tool in your house?
Do you take care of fixing the clothing, or do you hand it to others?
Do you sew by yourself your clothes? And your chlidrens?
Do you know how to treat underwear and clothes so they last longer and how?
What are your favorite handicrafts?
Do you have a constant day routine, and what is it?
How many hours a day do you spend for housekeeping?
Do you manage to have time for a rest in daytime?
Do you have fixed days or fixed hours for the different works, shuc as cleaning, laundering, ironing, fixing, cooking, shopping, etc.
Do you go out fo visits, theater, cinema, concerts, lectures?
Do you have a yearly vacation, outside home?
How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Do you share the duty of their education with your husband?
Are your children polite, friendly, disciplined, independent?
Do you feed your children?
Do you give them orders, or advice?
Do you show interest in their studies? Help them with homework?
Do you show interest in their reading books? Do you supervise their reading?
Do you supervise their cinema visits?
Do you allow your children to participate a youth movement? Go to trips, campings?
Do you know the friends of your children?
Do you allow your children to play inside the house?
Who is tidying after them? You? Them?
Who is tidying their beds, toys, books?
Do your children take a shower everyday before sleep?
Do you play with them, tell them stories, sing to them, go to trips with them?
Do you punish them, or tell the father?
Are you familiar with taking care of illnesses, first aid?
Do your children have a constant day routine?
Do you give them pocket money?
Do they get a fee for helping at home?
Are you glad receiving guests?
Do you do a public work of any kind?
Do you read the newspaper, books? What book do you read now?
Do you have a hobby of any kind?
Are you familiar with rational nutrition?
What do you think is more important, a nutritious food or a tasty food?
Do you consider as important the aesthetic serving of meals, does it worth the efforts of preparing the table and the beautification of foods?
Do you cook for one day or for more?
Do you consider as important the sitting together of all the family members to the meal?
Who arranges the table? Who washes the dishes?
Do you use, vegetables and fruits by the season?
Do you know how to bake? Do you practice it as a habit?
Do you excel in preparing special foods, which are they?
Do you make conserves?
What do you do with leftovers of the foods?
Did you invent a method of some kind to help ease the housekeeping?
Do you have a good advice for saving work for the young housewife: In laundry, ironing, sewing, cooking, baking, taking care of the children etc?
Do you love the housekeeping work, are you happy to be a housewife?