BLACK SABRES – Inner Journeys in a Burning Reality

Rita Mendes-Flohr

BLACK SABRES – Inner Journeys in a Burning Reality

I have always felt I am not an “action person”, not suited to go out and change the world, despite my strong sense of social justice. I see myself as inner directed, contemplative, with an artist’s voice that, until I turned 40, was hidden even from myself.

Still, as an artist, the question kept nagging me – do I have the luxury to engage in these inner worlds, to raise questions about Eros and Thanatos, about aging and decay while exploring intimate spaces, to evoke sensations of dark mysteries, of the uncanny? Must I separate between myself as a woman committed to social justice and an artist who wants nothing more than to spend all her time on a journey into the subconscious? Is there a way to bring the two together?

One possible solution to this dilemma evolved in my work with the Antea Gallery of Feminist Art (part of the woman’s center, Kol Ha-Isha), that I founded in 1994 together with Nomi Tannhauser, in order to bring about art exhibits that address feminist issues. This did not mean that the art itself would always be politicized, “mobilized” – it could very well be evocative and personal, and still be exhibited in a context that raised social issues, broadening the feminist discourse by being accompanied by critical texts and discussion evenings.
Am I able to speak out more explicitly in my art? How should I present my photos, when I photograph on my outings with an Israeli-Palestinian direct-action group as we accompany Palestinian shepherds in the South Hebron Hills and the Jordan Valley, in attempt to stop attacks by violent settlers from illegal outposts that seek to drive away the shepherds and small farmers out of Area C, often supported by the army? Can I show these photographs in a publicly funded gallery that would risk its funding if critical issues are raised that do not find favor with the ruling powers?

If I bring a more intimate vision to these photographs – for instance, by capturing the magic of the early morning light – will I risk making them too esthetically pleasing, thus beautifying an oppressive reality and trivializing the grave issues? Or, precisely by focusing on the breathtaking landscape, on the sense of freedom to roam, the photos will emphasize what the Palestinians stand to lose? Would the esthetics of the works beckon the viewer to take note, and ask deeper questions about how the Jordan Valley is slowly, but deliberately being emptied of its native Palestinians?

With BLACK SABRES – Inner Journeys in a Burning Reality I want to bring these questions about art and society to the fore, showing works from two series, Black Sabres and Jordan Valley, Just Before, based on two very different approaches, exhibited in an interwoven way. Perhaps what ties the two series together is the Palestinian concept of sumud, translated as “steadfastly holding on”. On the one hand, the black and white extreme closeups of sabres* relate to the prickly pear cactus hedges that stubbornly persist around the remains of Palestinian villages in Israel, refusing to be uprooted. On the other, the color photographs in this exhibit show the Palestinian Bedouin in Area C who persevere in going out with their sheep in the face of encroaching annexation of their lands.

Rita Mendes-Flohr

*Sabres, the opunta ficus indica cactus, as it is known in Hebrew slang, carries weighty and conflicting symbolic meanings for the two peoples of this land, yet is, ironically, itself a displaced plant originating in Mexico and the Caribbean, closer to where my own roots are.

Exhibition Details
Exhibition Date
22.8.2020 - 23.7.2020

More Exhibitions

All Exhibitions
Back to top