Moshe Gershuni

Moshe Gershuni (11 September 1936 – 22 January 2017) was an Israeli painter and sculptor. In his works, particularly in his paintings from the 1980s, he expressed a position different from the norm, commemorating The Holocaust in Israeli art. In addition, he created in his works a connection between bereavement and homoerotic sexuality, in the way he criticized society and Israeli Zionism-nationalism. He was awarded the Israel Prize for Painting for his work in 2003, but in the end it was revoked and he was deprived of receiving the prize.
«At the heart of his paintings are amorphous stains; hand-written phrases are their iconographic counterparts, functioning as directive anchors for the viewers. They link the corporeal and abject with the conceptual in Gershuni’s work. Paintings from the series Hai Cyclamen (1983 – 85) feature bent, undulating flowers that form elliptical loops, flames and infinity symbols, as well as incomplete verses taken from death rituals or passages conveying God’s mercy. The Binding of Isaac, perhaps the most powerful motif in Jewish-Israeli representational language, transmutes onto the canvas into the Yiddish, Eastern European pronunciation of ‘Isaac’. Works from his The Soldiers series (1981) similarly references filicide, though here the sons are no longer defenceless. The paintings’ blood reds also seem to question Israeli occupation almost 15 years after the Six Day War. At the same time, the soldiers, conjured in the paintings by language alone, also become objects of homoerotic desire: inscribing the red stained works with a discursive ‘Shalom Soldier, How Are You?’ or ‘Good Soldier’, Gershuni, who came out in 1980, shows himself as a flirtatious provocateur. Three works from 1998 feature the titular ‘No Father No Mother’, an allusion to Georg Büchner’s famous play about the soldier Woyzeck (1879). Gershuni’s search for identity as a Jewish and an Israeli artist has resulted in an orphan state: he broke away from the post-minimalism of his peers, yet as a painter belonging to a non-iconographic tradition, his tools became stain and written word. ‘I’m an Israeli because I am Jewish,’ Gershuni wrote in 1982, in the context of secular Israeli cultural debates over themes of Jewishness, offering one answer to the show’s opening challenge. Yet his Zionism is far more nuanced than the definition the term assumes in light of recent political developments. In 2003, Gershuni rejected the ‘Israel Prize’, the state’s highest honour, because he refused to shake hands with then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, as he would have had to at the ceremony. No Father No Mother, planned months in advance, opened after a summer of bloodshed in the region. Through Gershuni’s depictions of multiple complexities, this show in Berlin, in the autumn of 2014, is a reminder that the conflict can’t be reflected in simplistic binaries.

 

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