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Article 1

Hadara Scheflan-Katzav

To touch Holiness

By Use of Its Forms. To Touch the Word and Nullify

Its Sanctity. To Evade the Limitations of Religion and Society. So as

To Embroider a Cultural Synthesis. To Lean Over the Canvas,

To Avoid Momentum for the Sake of Delicacy of the

Wrist. To Observe

From Outside so as to Feel from Within. To Dismantle and

Compose New Old Lines. To Give Pleasure

To the Eye and Awaken the Heart of the Believer.

New Belief in Locality, With Two Faces Not Strange to

One Another. To Impel The Eye from the Periphery to the

Center, to the Absent -

the Existent

At first glance the works of Sara Konforty appear to stem form the ancient artistry, collective and anonymous, of women of a known and unknown religion. On second
Glance, one's heart beats faster, one's eyes widen in the presence of a union impossible in our country - a combination of the figurative motifs of two religions which the geopolitical field has made antagonistic to one another, Islam and Judaism.

On a third surprised glance - Konforty permits us to see how similar are the figurative languages of these two monotheistic religions, in contrast to the great difference between them and Christianity. The visual affinity reconciles the two and creates something new, something that is actually needed by the secular population, and this is the quality of local identity, its culture, its aesthetic.

Thus the works seem familiar, with an almost simple logic. They do not seem like a European or American adoption/ adaptation/ appropriation of forms or contents, but rather a colorful and linear passage through existing, understandable symbols of our local culture.

In recent years Sara Konforty has sought her roots in the normal places - the past of her parents, the European diaspora, the Yiddish newspapers Letzte Nayes and Letzte Tzaitung, and she has created pages of Jewish history as books and as charred scrolls.

This time she turns to brilliant color, especially gold, by means of which she embroiders a new past, or perhaps present and future. This path is the path of an artistic praxis which works on a given and laden matrix - tallith (Jewish prayer shawl) and kaffiyeh (Arab head cloth), Muslim prayer rug and parokhet (curtain over the Holy Ark in the synagogue). In themselves these are signs of decidedly religious texts, but they also respond to her and relax their declared, unequivocal positions for the sake of a simultaneous arrangement, reconciled and splendid in the breadth of its heart.

The splendor is notable in the abundance of forms and colors and in the "fear of vacuum" that typifies decorative art, but Konforty breaks with the decorative convention by concentrating the eye upon the center, disturbing the feeling of infinity as a normative potential of the repeated pattern. She borrows forms and techniques from decorative art, such as embroidery and sewing, but she outwits them, because her embroidery is no longer embroidery, but rather the delicate spattering and spreading of pigment, industrial pigment.

The materialistic creed taught us that technique and development influence the form and essence of representation (the change in painting technique from tempera to oil paint, from oil paint to synthetic, industrial pigment...). Classical Western painting acted for the purpose of representing, that is, the intellectual appropriation of the visual world.

Decorative art (in contrast to both figurative and abstract art) does not deal with representation. Hence the power hunger of the act of representation is distant from it. Love of the material and the form are far more important here than obtaining ownership and objectification. Women expert at their crafts for generations, at spinning, weaving, and embroidery, at sewing, lace-making and braiding, did not base their creation upon the opposition - vital to high Western creation - between subject and object. They, of course, produced objects, tangible objects that can be worn out, but they are unlike objects that testify to the existence of a splendid subject, the individual genius who created them. Mainly women were content with producing secular objects, while those used for worship of the deity (one or another) were destined for other hands - the hands men.

This time we speak of the hands of a woman that experience the forbidden. This is not the collective, anonymous work of the Middle Ages, but it partially recalls the monks and nuns in their meticulous and breathtaking work on scripture. Here awe of the deity disappears, and with it fear of cultural and political differentiation. The impartial approach does away with the need for justification, for apology for the exploitation of one culture by its sister, one society of the weaker other. It is not surprising, then, that these works refrain from binary, hierarchical thought and strive for a combination of alternative otherness. A broad field is able to accept difference rather than opposition, to accept alternatives with mutual existence beneath a single truth. The pattern and decoration movement in the United States, which was established in 1975, acted precisely against the racist and sexist rhetoric of Western art. When Joyce Kozloff and Valerie Jaudon published their article, "Art Hysterical Notions of Progress and Culture" in the journal Heresies 4 (Winter, 1987) they took pains, page after page, to lay bare the power hunger of Western artistic discourse, which directs decorative art toward the "Other" (the woman, the Third World). Among the many quotations they presented, the most famous is that of A. Loos from 1908: "Ornament is a crime".

Many artists of the movement have turned to the culture of the "Third World". Miriam Schapiro borrowed images from the Far and Near East and as early as 1972 she exhibited an installation of room in which were hung, among other things, Persian carpets and colored textiles. In 1975 Kozloff exhibited works that were based on the patterns of Islamic tiles, pre-Columbian decorative motifs, and carpets woven by North African tribes. Similarly, in the early 1980s Jane Kaufman exhibited textiles which included gilded decorations inspired by Oriental motifs.

These artists created from an internalized ideology opposed to the Western and modernistic prejudice against the decorative, against its dichotomic and hierarchical view of high and low art, historical and decorative art, individual and collective art, and Western art versus Oriental art.

Recent criticism has begun to doubt borrowings of this type of non-Western forms. A-historical and trans-cultural borrowings which do not relate to specific sources thus empty out the original meaning and become appropriation for its own sake. The desire for universality lead to superficial decoration and to empty formal symbols in the service of a subversive aesthetic.

It seems that Sara Konforty has succeeded in going beyond these lines by absorbing Western visual language, the result of life in Western cities, Haifa and Jerusalem. She speaks a new language, whose vocabulary is known but whose combinations are original. The common methods of classification, sorting, and coding have been overthrown for the sake of an alternative space. A cultural breathing space.

The Traveling Exhibition was produced by the Department of Visual Arts, Omanut La'am Institute Art and Culture.

Hadara Scheflan-Katzav




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