Gil Yefman’s Kibbutz Buchenwald at the Tel Aviv Museum
Kibbutz Buchenwald, Gil Yefman's provocative and creative multi-faceted exhibition, opened at the Tel Aviv Museum, Israel, on December 25. Yefman [link https://www.rappaport-prize.org.il/en/gil-yefman] was awarded the distinguished Rappaport prize for a young Israeli artist In 2017. If you are in Israel, this exhibition, curated by Adi Dahan, should not be missed.
Gil Yefman's solo exhibition presents a new project that develops his collaborations of recent years with the artist Dov Or-Ner and the Kuchinate collective. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a video installation, Bad Renro and Penelope at Kibbutz Buchenwald, which Yefman made with Israeli artist and Holocaust survivor Dov Or-Ner. The video installation revisits a short-lived historical event that took place from the end of World War II until the early years following the establishment of Israel. According to the museum's press release, “It considers the rift that opened between 'Holocaust' and 'revival,' evokes collective traumas and offers ways of unison. Through the motif of cultivated nature emerges an imagined, fantastic, queer and mystic site -- that is, kibbutz Buchenwald."
The film follows two characters, Penelope embodied by Gil Yefman, and Bad Renro (looking a lot like Hitler) embodied by Dov Or-Ner. Dressed as Penelope and Bad Renro, the two artists stage performance art at the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp memorial, the Netzer Sereni kibbutz in Israel, and the Holocaust memorial monument at the kibbutz, created by the Zionist sculptor Batya Lishanski.
The museum press release states: "The work's title relates to a short historical event in which a group of survivors from Buchenwald concentration camp sought to implement a communal ideology and realize a productive and collective future from within the anarchy that was the end of World War II. The survivors chose a name that indicated the place they met and formed as a group -- kibbutz Buchenwald. Yet when they arrived [in Israel] to carry out their shared vision, the kibbutz movement had difficulty accepting such an anomalous phrase. The name evolved and survived for four years before its current name was decided -- kibbutz Netzer Sereni. The original name, loaded with a rare possibility of remembrance, slipped away from the historical canon." The press release concludes: "Zionism and Holocaust remain explosive subjects of fervent preoccupation that still shapes local identity, defines morals and tradition, ranges between delicate familial feelings and the politics of public sentiment."
A small room in the gallery features Yefman's crocheted sculpture of a forced sex slave at a Nazi concentration camp, a newer version of his sculpture last shown in April-May 2018 at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York, a highlight of Remember the Women Institute's VIOLATED! Women in Holocaust and Genocide exhibition, curated by Dr. Batya Brutin. Both of these life-size sculptures, lying on beds, allow Yefman to become part of them so that viewers connect not only with the grotesque abused women, but also with the artist's eyes. The wall text and catalog for this new artwork recognize the research by Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth, Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, and Remember the Women Institute as background on the topic of forced sex workers in Nazi concentration camps.
Yefman collaborated with the women of the Kuchinate collective to crochet the leaves for a Living Fence entitled Hedgerow at the entrance to the gallery. The leaves are evocative of the foliage the Nazis placed in front of the Birkenau gas chamber and incinerators to hide them from the imminent victims. Yefman also collaborated with these refugee women from Africa, now living in Tel Aviv, to crochet huge baskets for the VIOLATED! exhibition. By working with them, he recognizes both their crocheting skills and their victimhood. "The mute nature allows Yefman to transform the building blocks of Israeli society, to pick at the wounds of memory, to gaze at them with eyes wide open and to plant new seeds in them," according to the museum's press release.
Read background information about the original Kibbutz Buchenwald, organized by Holocaust survivors in Germany after liberation. Judy Tydor Baumel-Schwartz, daughter of one of the organizers, Director of The Arnold and Leona Finkler Institute of Holocaust Research and related research institutes at Bar-Ilan University, and a member of the Advisory Board of Remember the Women Institute, wrote a book about this history.
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