Haya Graetz-Ran: A Personal Pioneer
The «Izraeliyot» exhibition by artist Haya Graetz-Ran presents a series of paintings and drawings shown for the first time, allowing us a glimpse into the thoughts and creative processes of the artist. The series of drawings creates a single unit that crystalizes into the central work of the subject and series, “H. The Pioneer Who Died”, 2014. Pioneering women have become a central theme in Graetz-Ran’s work and continues her fascination with the character of the budding, youthful woman. In this series Graetz-Ran focuses on the character of a particular pioneer by the name of Shoshana Bogin, whose death at the age of 21, was commemorated by the camera of an anonymous photographer in 1918. The photograph, which is entirely staged, tells and embodies both the personal story of the pioneer together with the story of the pioneering, Zionist Aliyah of the 1920’s.
The photograph, shot in the ‘Living Picture’ style – Tableau Vivant (a scene with people posing in costume) shows the pioneer, Shoshana Bogin, following her death after she poisoned herself, lying on a stretcher in the Jaffa hospital courtyard. Her corpse is covered with a white sheet and eucalyptus leaves, her feet are exposed, and surrounding her, in a half circle, are her pioneer girlfriends, most of them covering their heads in white. The anonymous photographer from Jaffa, was seemingly a Christian, because the photo was staged according to Christian iconography of scenes of lamentation such as: The Deposition, Pieta and Death of the Virgin. This symbolic death portrays, on one hand the fleeting moment of the photograph, yet on the other is frozen forever in time.
This post-mortem photograph was taken in a style popular in art and literature of the time, that portrayed people after their death. Through this style the photograph allows us to learn about the history of society, its ethnography and the various forms in which a family or society choses to describe themselves. Photo researcher, Guy Raz notes that the back of the photograph is marked with the word ‘Postcard’ anticipating its course outside of the Land of Israel.
In this series Graetz-Ran interacts directly with subjects of the photographs. She processes the photograph by maneuvering it into a medium of drawing, oil painting and studies with chalk on Fabriano paper, while changing it by slicing, isolating and cutting the characters. The larger drawings, shown for the first time, allow us to follow the artist’s train of thought as it becomes refined in the central painting of the series, and explores different variations of the theme.
The exhibition features five oil paintings, two of which, focus on grieving societies, and are cut such, that only part of their bodies fit into the narrow, rectangular frame. The characters look like the classic icons of martyrs. Galia Bar Or (2010) writes that “in many of Graetz-Ran’s works her point of departure is photography, as if a family album was expanded to new horizons … the paintings serve as documentary of the pioneers’ heroic efforts to survive in the new conditions in the Land of Israel and provides further depth to the daily struggle of these characters, their exposure to the Middle Eastern sun and a demanding and enslaving society.
The main drawing isolates the pioneer and places her directly on bare fabric. Her lonely figure is reminiscent of Ophelia, the character from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Upon careful observation, one sees that in the last scene the pioneer’s head has been replaced by a self-portrait of the artist. This is the first time that Graetz-Ran has painted a self-portrait. This sharp transformation creates a fluctuation like a pendulum swinging between the artist’s own autobiography (born in 1948, the year Israel was established) and between the collective Zionist story as photographed and written by the male narrative. Thus, a dual tension is created between the dream and the shattering of the dream both for Shoshana the pioneer and for the artist. In both cases they do not accept the usual narrative; rather they create a different, feminine, personal, revealing, and intimate narrative. In this way, the artist and her subject allow the female voice, absent from the story of the pioneering ethos, to be heard. And thus, a close connection is established between past and present.