Recreating That moment, The Invention of Israeliness
Hanna sings at the opening of Yigal Nizri's "Living Growing,"
Dvir Gallery, Tel-Aviv, 3
walls at Yigal Nizri's exhibition are brown, and giant forms
float over them, like mutant Seven Species; flat, as though
naive, as if they were taken from a kibbutz dining room.
Victoria Hanna sang in that space on the opening night. Calling
it 'a concert on the opening night' would be an injustice
to the moment of her performance. It was really a shared creation:
a performance sung-acted by Hanna, directed by Nizri into
the space he had designed; a unique, chilling occurrence of
voice within place.
circled around a few songs with a Yemenite/biblical
scent of the old Zionist school. She began with a shattering
version, an ironic, playful and 'artful' performance,
a savoring and testing singing of "Look not upon
me, Because I am dark." Dark, in a shining green
satin dress, embroidered, 'second hand,' 'ethnic.'
singing then became orderly, serious and more calculated
in songs such as "The Pomegranate Tree." And
then she switched on a cassette player and drank some
water, listening with us to one of the 'sources' to
which she had just added her own version (after the
late Ofra Haza, and after Esther Ofarim and Illana Eliya
- may they live long), following all the Yemenite women
singers who ever performed this song and its likes -
an old original recording of an Israeli-Yemenite woman
singer. (I later learned her name is Hanna Aharoni).
work speaks blatantly, poster-like, of the way the living
national religious memory had turned into a still object
in the dining room of the dominant Israeli-Jewish experience
in the Land of Israel. Thus the forms became abstract,
graphical, modernist, minimalist. Ghosts of the fruit
of the land.
for larger images:
was the Mizrahi girl in the recreation of that moment: the
invention of Israeliness. An Ashkenazi Israeliness, inspired,
for example, by Yemenite cultural assets that it assimilated
into itself with selectiveness that mixed interest with orientalism
to a degree that is as touching as it is revolting (Ashkenazi-Zionists,
artists including, also found inspiration and interest in
the "figure of the Arab"). The shared Nizri-Hanna
speech actualized the moment wherein thousands of years of
religious consciousness in general, and Mizrahi consciousness
in particular, had reached their end (until further notice:
see Shas) in favor of another consciousness. Nizri and Hanna,
together more than apart, wrote and sang this consciousness.
space where "Illi fat, mat" (that which has passed
is dead), sat Hanna the Mizrahi woman, and listened to that
which remained from that past in the familiar regional space.
It was not a narrow "post-Zionist" parody on Yemenite-feminine-"biblical"-Zionist
singing. Hanna was both that Yemenite singer who sang some
decades ago and a young Mizrahi woman today, examining the
remains, to see if they still have life and a space for action.
As if in a time tunnel I was momentarily transported for the
first time to a moment where, historically, I could not have
been present. The moment Nizri, Hanna, and the members of
our generation were born into as a fait accompli, inviting
excavation and examination.
I felt I was participating in a scene close in spirit to a
scene in Antonioni's The Eclipse, created in a different place
(Italy) before I was born (1962): Elegant people in a cocktail
party mood, having a good time and expanding their horizons
with an exotic feminine performance.
I went back to this film after the opening, and found one
of the most beautiful anti\colonialist scenes I have ever
seen. Sharper than I had remembered. The film was made into
the moment when most colonies in Africa were liberated from
Europe's burden (well, not really, says the film), while in
Europe - gourmet, bored, but also bubbling with unrest - objects
of African presence began to be seen, enchanting and horrifying.
looking up to Europe, Modernism, African masks, darkness.
The last century's twenties, the fifties, the sixties, two
thousand and two.
Next to a corner Nizri placed a model of the gallery (white
walls), covered by palm tree branches. A certain interpretation
seems to present itself: In a gallery named Dvir, meaning
temple, a reminder of the ephemerality of this story. A sense
Eshed (Morad) is a Tel Aviv based MA student in film studies,
a video artist and essayist. A hebrew version of this review
was published in Studio no. 139, January 2003.