Dictators

2008

‘U R My Destiny’ 
5 Place 4 Art, Tel Aviv
October, 2008

Text by curator Raz Samira

The exhibition “U R My Destiny” reframes one of the themes which have informed Bar Lev’s work over the years:  despotism.  In this exhibit the despot – the dictator- becomes the main subject.  The dictator is an authority figure who brutally represses the freedom of the society and the individual.  Bar Lev relates in a mocking  fashion to the power and influence of the dictator over the individual. She regards him as invading the domestic sphere as well as infiltrating the personal psyche. She does not hesitate to distort him, to multiply his image, to transform him into a functional object – a piece of furniture, such as a coffee table or a hassock, or a decoration.  Bar Lev confronts the dictator with the results of his deeds:  fear, despair, terror and death, much death. The skull image, the ‘vanitas’ and ‘memento mori’ become the central subject in a group of ceramic plates and remind us that all human attainments are transitory.

Bar Lev’s new work continues to be characterized by a mixed-media approach.  She uses paint on canvas and drawing on paper; images and writing; she builds objects using fabrics, ceramics and plywood, she adapts ready-mades.  The textile work is composed of layers of paint on printed, patch-worked fabrics, such as camouflage cloth or a kitten print.  The struggle between the layers, the images, the bright colors, the words and patterns create a visual and thematic overload which overflows into the gallery space. This free use of techniques of folk art and woman’s art such as embroidery and sewing, of quotes from popular songs and personal statements, along with more traditional painting and drawing, creates a unique hybrid of the feminine and the masculine, the individual and the collective, the personal and the political.

The environment in which the dictators are placed is unreal, colorful and crowded.  It contains feminine fragments:  a red high heeled shoe, a hand-embroidered lace tablecloth, flowers, fashionable handbags, needlepoint, a pair of red cherries, a womb, a fetus and more.  In a large textile work, the dictator is placed at the center of the composition; to one side of him sits a female figure drawn from a fashion magazine.  She is beautiful, seductive and detached, in contrast to and in completion of the image of the dictator.  There is a physical connection between the two, but no apparent emotional one, no real coupling.  Bar Lev says:  “In order for something new to be born, there must be a complete severance from all existing power structures.”

In addition to the large textile works, Bar Lev shows a series of black and white pen and ink drawings of stylized 1950’s interiors.  Parts of the furniture have become the heads and torsos of various 20th century dictators: Hitler as a large standing fan, Stalin and Saddam Hussein as table lamps, Castro and Tito as armchairs, Arafat as a television console. Each drawing shows a dictator in his ‘domestic’ setting, among various decorative elements, rugs, plants etc., drawing attention to his discomfort and embarrassment in the new situation in which the artist has placed him: a butt of mockery and derision.

An artist’s book by Bar Lev will be launched in conjunction with the exhibition. The short fragments of text she wrote amplify and extend the images/works, a continuation and completion of the exhibition.