Blog: art censorship in Israel

The truth will set you free, but first - it will piss you off

In this chapter I will examine a number of works of art that deal with censorship or that the practice of prohibitions and concealment is an essential part of them. These are works that examine the boundaries of the space in which they operate, with the main medium sometimes being the reactions to the work of art in the public space. That is, I will examine cases where the artist has dealt with censorship or the discourse on censorship and prohibitions serves the work.

In order to discuss art that deals with censorship as a topic, it would be appropriate to dwell on the concept of censorship. According to the book Encyclopedia of Ideas Censorship is an activity whose function is "to prevent the publication of information or knowledge of any kind: theoretical or useful, verbal, visual, or phonetic. Censorship works preventively to reduce freedom of information and choice." According to the book, in many countries censors use their power to silence the opposition by instilling fear and encouraging the public to self-censor mechanisms while disseminating "disinformation with a view to eliminating freedom of thought and speech and preventing the organization of those who 'think differently'. (Gurovich, Evening, 2012)

While collecting the bibliographic information for the writing of the work, I located hundreds of cases in which Israeli art was censored. As part of the search, I contacted Ami Steinitz, who curated the exhibition 'Forbidden', an exhibition that was presented in 1998 at the Gallery of Modern Art in Tel Aviv. The exhibition featured texts on censored works of art and is an example of an exhibition that essentially deals with censorship. All the texts that Steinitz shared with me will appear at the end of the work as appendices, and a study of them and other appendices can give an even clearer picture of what censorship looks like in the State of Israel.

The first artist to diagnose his works and his practice of censorship is David Reeve. Reeb is an Israeli painter who deals with journalism and paints photographs from the newspaper or documents with a private camera events related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which he shows the IDF's encounters with the Palestinian side, emphasizing the injustice of the Israeli occupation.

Riv has a number of works of art that deal with the subject of occupation and censorship, but I have chosen to present his works in this chapter and not in a chapter that describes art that deals with occupation and censorship. I made the decision when I heard an interview and video in which Reeb described a painting he had drawn from a picture he had taken. In an interview, Reeb describes the painting and says that "people dressed up as detainees, put flannel on their eyes and put handcuffs, went and sat down in front of soldiers." Reeb went on to say that "someone threw a stone at one of the soldiers and everything dispersed, dragging the disguised people [...] I was also detained, the play becomes real, imaginary and real, theater and reality [...] I liked it as a subject". From this quote it can be understood that a quarrel also deals with the question of what is the truth in a painting. (Tel Aviv Museum, 2014)

Reeb's work, which probably deals with censorship in the most literal way, is a painting called censorship. It is a painting that contains mainly text in English, but it is defined as a visual painting and from the name of the painting it can be concluded that the censored content is not the main thing but that the black spots that censor the words are the focus. That is, since the text is censored, it can be said that it can arouse curiosity about its content when it raises questions such as what is censored, why it is censored and what deserves censorship. In a video filmed at the Tel Aviv Museum, Reeb explained that the text in the painting depicts memories from 1973 when the words erased in black were military words such as officers, RCM (armored combat vehicle), targets, ranks and more. (Ibid.)

The work raises the question of why an artist would censor his own work, himself. To my understanding Reeve is not interested in conveying those censored memories, but rather in directing the viewer's gaze to what is not, to the question of whether the viewer's gaze manages to capture the whole picture as a whole and examine what image is hidden from the viewer in the picture.

In a video interview with the Tel Aviv Museum, Reeb said, "I may have deleted a few more later for the composition." From this it can be understood that the matter is not only the preoccupation with censorship of words but also the thought of erasure as an aesthetic act of concealment and an abstract thought of a composition created with the help of a stain. Thus a quarrel turns the text into an image that functions more as a painting and perhaps emphasizes the censorship experienced by painters, or the ability of an image to convey a message. (There)

Another work that deals with censorship is the work that Shai Zvi Horodi presented in his graduation exhibition at his seminary, a work that was also displayed at the Tel Aviv Museum afterwards. Horodi presented an official letter he received from the dean of the seminary, the Faculty of Arts, Dr. Gabi Klezmer, in which it is stated that he is not allowed to present his dissertation. In the first act, he broke the lock of the gate that connects the seminary to Tira's main access road to Kfar Saba. Beit Berl security arrested him during the burglary attempt. In it without his knowledge.Herodi intended to present the recording of the reprimand.The letter states that he can not present the same recording, since as stated it was recorded without the knowledge of the director of the college.

Horodi has additional works that were also displayed in his solo exhibition The House of Absorption at the Tel Aviv Museum. In one video work, Horodi is seen swallowing a check for NIS 4,000. The check was received by Horodi at the graduation ceremony of the final exhibition of his studies at the seminary as a prize, a scholarship named after Rafi Lavi. Horodi said in an interview with an article on the Timeout website that when he sat down and drafted an email to the curator of the Tel Aviv Museum with a video suggestion in which he eats the scholarship, he thought of his father's motto that "should be rude." In another video work, Horodi is photographed from a distance walking in the Dizengoff Center mall and stealing a number of items. The items he stole are also on display at the show. I see the works as examining the boundaries of art and worthy of mention, as they examine the tolerance of cultural institutions for exhibits.
   
The next work I will present is the sculptor King Bibi by the sculptor Itai Zlait. The sculpture depicts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and was placed on the morning of Friday, December 2016, in Rabin Square in central Tel Aviv. The placement of the statue in the square took place at night without the approval of the Tel Aviv Municipality, as an act intended to "examine freedom of expression" according to Zlait. (Yarkatzi, 2016)

I argue that Zlait's artwork is not just the material or image of the sculpture itself, but everything that takes place about it in the public space. In a conversation I had with Zlait on the phone, he agreed with me and claimed that this is a performance in which the participants are the Israeli public and that those who demand censorship of the statue are part of the work.

On the morning of the eighth of November 2018, another work by Zlait was placed in Habima Square in Tel Aviv. The work is an exhibit that includes a statue depicting the Minister of Culture and is three and a half meters high. The minister's statue was placed in front of a mirror, with a sign next to the mirror that reads "#in the heart of the nation."

It cannot be ignored that the sculpture was erected in the days of a political struggle for freedom of expression that artists have in the State of Israel. About a week before the statue was placed, the Cultural Loyalty Law, initiated by Minister of Culture Miri Regev, was passed on first reading. Although Zlait claimed that placing the statue was not related to the Loyalty Law, he added that "anyone can interpret the work as he thinks. It is a work I started working on months ago and can be taken in any direction." (There)

From my reading of the works, Zlait's choice to sculpt the prominent politicians in the country's largest party is not accidental, he places the sculptures in the form of politicians in the central public spaces of Tel Aviv in an attempt to present a mirror to the Israeli public. In the same way, he also invites the citizens of Israel to express their opinions. Zlait removed the statue from the four white walls of the gallery, and it is less concerned with the reaction of politicians to placing the statues. I understand if there is a political message that Zlait is trying to convey, it is related to his preoccupation with transparency and the desire to confront the public with the decision-makers, the representatives of the party that controls the Israeli public.

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