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Ruti Kalimi – About Pioneers and Bears in Afula

2014 | “Pioneers and Bears in Afula” exhibition text

The artist Haya Graetz Ran’s exhibit, “About Pioneers and Bears in Afula”, presents an artistic means to a renewed discussion about the issue of the image and status of the pioneer woman and society’s attitude toward her at the beginning of the settlement of Afula and the Izrael Valley. The feminist Post Modern dialogue allows us to examine the place of the pioneer woman, the mother and the woman who fulfilled herself. This dialogue rises out of Graetz-Ran’s Post Modern backward glance that examines if indeed the pioneer woman had the right to choose self-fulfillment within the masculine world of control and power, in the early days of settlement, providing her with a leading role in the Post Modern dialogue. Haya also turns a critical glance toward Israeli society and the legacy of violence and cycle of blood that accompany us to this day.

As an act of critical tribute toward Israeli reality, the artist chose to paint the image of the pioneer woman from period photographs. The picturesque stance corresponds with the stance of the masculine photographer who “stages” the pioneer women in romantic, feminine poses in order to market them to Diaspora Jews as postcards aimed at collecting money for purchasing “Plots of Land in the Homeland”. Graetz-Ran rises up against the attempt to beautify the harsh reality experienced by the women, plants protesting images, for example, the image of a diaphragm, black flags, girls beside the guardsman on horseback, and more, in opposition to the viewpoint of the photographer, and entices the viewer to delve with her into the personal codes and identifying marks that are in tune with her ideological social/feminist world view.

These women, pioneers, workers, identified by their dress as members of the working-class, grasp tools and represent the society of women in which gender equality would be preserved. Haya Graetz- Ran’s creative world moves between the public-social sphere, in which she turns the spotlight on a renewed examination of the attitude of masculine, macho Israeli society toward the woman, and that of her personal-private sphere, in which the field of creativity combines personal statements which grow out of her world view – that correspond with private memories and research carried out over many years about the lives of women pioneers as revealed in Valley archives and in meetings with pioneer women. According to her – “Each series of works shown in the exhibit has both a hidden and an open relationship to my personal biography, which runs parallel to the history of the founding of the State of Israel.1 The job of “cover-up” and hiding of “the painful truth” has transformed into a kind of survival kit for the generation of mothers, most of whom relinquished their personal fulfillment – and imposed the weight of their hopes and missed opportunities of fulfillment onto the younger generation.” The dualism that characterized the responsible generation of mothers in the early period of settlement, the concern for children in contrast to their concern for the homeland, is the idea that connects all of the paintings through the figure of the mother, present-absent in depth in Graetz-Ran’s creations, and whose spirit is reflected in the figures of other women in her works. The paintings lead us on a kind of retrospective path, from the point of view of the artists as an adult woman and to memories she retains from her childhood, and these memories lead to physical and emotional territories – memories at once both personal and collective.

The realistic style of the figures and the Valley landscape create a feeling of serenity at first glance through the delicate outlines and design, as a harmonious wholeness is achieved through minimalism and paucity of details. Nevertheless, the relationship between the figure of the woman and the picturesque space expresses separation and distancing from the surroundings, emphasizing their loneliness and longing, their internal worlds filled with suffering and frustration, the inability of the women to speak of their true distress. The use of animals in Haya Graetz-Ran’s works provides variation and allows a type of communication. In the past, the artist included animal figures in her works, such as a rabbit, hedgehog, meerkat and pig, each of whom represented experiences drawn from her subconscious. The figure of the terrifying bear that appears in the series shown in the Afula Municipal Art Gallery, “About Pioneers and Bears in Afula”, leads to other places that correspond to stories from Haya Graetz-Ran’s pioneer father, of bears in the snowy forests of “Mother Russia”.

The artist points out: “The Russian bear that bursts out and stands looking at the pioneers who are ‘making roads’ was born with my feelings today as one observing the contemporary reality of Israeli society whose bindings have come loose, and in the feeling of the failure of my generation that was born in Israel. There is a sensation of cessation and inability to break out of the never-ending ‘cycle of blood’ that we have bequeathed to our children and grandchildren”.

Haya Graetz-Ran utilizes tools as the base for her creations, tools associated both with female and male territory, a used cutting board as the base for a painting, with marks of knives and time engraved in the wood fibers by brush strokes, emphasizing the rough texture on the inner parts of the women and their bodies, and, on the other hand, a plasterer’s trowel, identified as a masculine tool used for plastering that forms an additional base for her work. The conflict expressed in the use of these tools and the metaphoric connotation arising from it, stress the expression of defiance of conventions of the time that influenced the way the artist, Haya Graetz-Ran, was educated.

Ruti Kalimi, Curator


1 Haya Graetz-Ran was born in 1948