This spring Tel Aviv had their annual art fair: Fresh Paint with a main pavilion and satellite galleries all over the city. My exhibit “We’re All in the Same Boat” was exhibited at Kuchinate, African Women’s Refugee Collective, curated by Tamar Lamdan and Carmite Shine of Two Curators.
Kuchinate was founded by Dr. Diddy Mymin Kahn and Sister Aziza Kidane to provide a community of support, employment and guidance for these women. Kuchinate makes beautiful woven, handmade baskets to sell and they are adding more handmade items to their collection. http://www.kuchinate.com
My life-sized boat and ten life-sized dolls greatly impacted the viewers; the scale of the piece helped the audience relate to the refugees and their situation. I also believe that we’re not used to seeing “dolls” sad or suffering or life-sized rather small, delicate and beautiful; large dolls were also a shocking sight which helped convey the plight of refugees. The 2.5 meter long row boat was made from cardboard, wood and duct tape, the refugee dolls were needle felted from wool; the project took 2.5 months to create. The refugees were depicted from many different countries and different periods in time. Many viewers shared their own stories of displacement and hardship, making us realize that all of us are at risk for one reason or another.
The only doll in the boat that I didn’t leave for the audience to decide for themselves the ethnicity or situation of the refugee doll was the young Polish refugee girl. The only real interaction and deep understanding of a personal situation with a refugee I’ve ever had is my mother-in-law, Sida Beck Levitas. Sida was a hidden child during WWII, because of her big blue eyes and very blond hair she passed as a Christian during the Holocaust. Most of the stories we know about her from this time period are from her brother, Arther Beck who was also a hidden child. Sida doesn’t like to talk about this time in her life because it gives her nightmares for weeks. We’ve seen how the refugee situation she endured affected the rest of her life and I’m sure all refugees suffer similar long lasting effects. Sida is 92 and lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The life-sized dolls were needle felted over a wire and wood armature, the larger dolls used a wooden-easel method to help them sit sturdily. The sculptures have glass doll eyes and polymer-clay teeth.
I wanted to represent various situations in the boat, depression, seriousness, fear and even hope. One of the big questions I had was what do the children do during these long, dangerous journeys, do they run about, peer over the sides of the boat or play with other children? I was told by one of the African refugees that the smugglers would yell at anyone talking or making noise. Everyone including the children would be hit with a stick to keep them in line.
I know that many of the refugees around the world are religious, so I made the praying boy at the front of the boat as a sign of hope.
It took a long time to finish my studio, after we bought the 150+ year old Ottoman-era property in the ancient port city of Jaffa, Israel; we had to design the space and then rehab it with the help of ancient architecture specialists (architects, engineers, builders and carpenters) because the building is historic and required many special details in its restoration. The building has been many things over the years but it’s original purpose was as a barn. The building is located in Shuk Ha Pish Pishim (the flea market); in ancient times herders kept their livestock in the area below our apartment and slept in the rooms that are now our house. The herders sold their livestock in the market that still exists today albeit with a very different look and feel! The flea market today is a very hip and gritty place with many bars, restaurants and boutiques.
There are 2 outdoor spaces in our house now but years ago the rooms were built around an indoor courtyard, a very common feature of Arabic architecture. The rooms are designated by the vaulted ceilings, one of the most striking features of the house.
It took us a little more than 3 years to rehab our home in which my studio is located. My art studio has a mid-century modern look; it contains 8 large storage cabinets with transparent backs so you can see the stones behind, a card catalog for storing tiny supplies like threads, tape, felting supplies, knick-knacks etc., two mid-century style tables, my aquarium of turtles and a little sofa. There were two niches in my studio (we don’t know what they were for); I now use one as a storage area and one as a bathroom.
I have a mid-century style handmade, walnut sewing table and a matching taller table with my computer on it; this is where I felt because all my wool is in the cabinets behind me. As I sit and work I can watch my turtles in the aquarium that separates my studio space from the rest of the house. Louie and Shmoopy (my dogs) often visit me in my studio, Shmoopy is currently banned from the studio because she has eaten too many of my felted pieces; she jumps up on the table and cabinets and steals them.
I’ve added many family heirlooms in my studio; they give me inspiration and they are reminders of quality, old-world craftsmanship. My fiber-art is needle felted, many times with embroidery, beads or textiles incorporated into the work.
These dolls are needle felted from wool; they are 3-D political illustrations.
I feel that the words of Elie Wiesel can best explain my thoughts on speaking out on the immigration problems that the world (not only the United States) has today:
“And then I explained to him how naive we were, that the world did know and remain silent. And that is why I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”
I ask myself a lot of questions that I think have a lot to do with people who view immigrants as law breakers, criminals and rapists:
Solutions: Since the world is dealing with immigration more and more because of political unrest, war and a changing climate, why don’t we set up more think-tanks to deal with immigration issues? Young people are often very insightful and have recently brought new energy and ideas to today’s problems; let’s introduce these issues to students and let them try to solve the issue. Maybe we should start taxing religious institutions and use that money to help immigrants AND others. Perhaps we should teach people the art of debate so we can better discuss these issues in a more productive way. I’m sure we should have better leaders, people with compassion who want to help people and solve problems humanely.
At one point in my needle felting I began to wonder how I could make the surface more interesting, so I began to experiment. I needle felted a mask using a large felted ball as a mold to help me obtain the curved shape of the mask. I felted the mask face as I’d felt any doll face but as I started to apply the colors of the face I became bored with the felted outcome. I decided to start the long, arduous process of embroidering the mask.
It took me several years to finish this project because many other projects became more important and I put the mask away, time and time again. Because of the tediousness of the embroidery I wasn’t excited to finish it.
As I progressed with the mask embroidery, the shape of the mask changed and I had to keep reshaping it. Getting the needle through the center part of the face was very difficult. By this point (above) I was anticipating adding color so the process became more exciting!
The mask came to life with the addition of each different color that I added. The more colors applied to the surface, the faster I worked!
I compare the many colorful thread stitches of my mask to brush strokes; the outcome reminds me of an impressionistic painting.
I sewed/glued a chop stick to the side of the mask for a handle; I felted a handle, embroidered it black and inserted the thread-wrapped chop stick into the handle. I sewed black beads around the mask to compliment the handle.
The feel that the messy, inside of the mask is as interesting as the outside! I’m looking forward to my next needle felted-embroidered mask and I’m sure I will finish it in record time!