Batia Lishansky

1900Malyn, Ukraine | 1992Tel Aviv, Israel
Batia Lishansky — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait of Batia Lishansky, 1920

Israeli sculptor.

Batia Lishansky is the recipient of the Israel Prize for Sculpture (1986), the Dizengoff Prize for artists (1944, 1957), and an Honorary Award by the City of Tel Aviv (1983).
The life story and art of B. Lishansky, a sculptor of memorials and portraits, reflect the world of a woman artist whose oeuvre combined her personal life with her commitment to the ideological collective to which she belonged, during a century marked by momentous changes. The trajectory of her life and of her artistic development allows for an exploration of nascent Israeli society’s attitude to its artists and their role.

B. Lishansky immigrated to Ottoman Palestine with her family in 1910. The traumas she suffered during her childhood in the Ukraine made her into an introverted, sensitive child. She had three sisters: Sarah, Tamar and Rachel (Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, one of the leaders of the Israeli Labour movement and later the wife of Israel’s second president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi). They were all independent and pioneering women, who provided B. Lishansky with support as she pursued her unique artistic trajectory.
B. Lishansky studied at the Hebrew Gymnasium in Jerusalem and at the Bezalel School (1919). In 1920 she left to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome and joined the “Gdud Haavoda” group of pioneers; she was one of the founders of Kibbutz Ein Harod (1921). In 1923, however, she was overcome by her longing to return to the art world. She left the kibbutz and went back to Europe to study sculpture at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Berlin. In 1925 she moved to Paris to study at the École des Beaux-Arts. In Paris she discovered the works of Auguste Rodin (1840-1917), which would exert a decisive influence on her practice, and exhibited in group exhibitions for the first time. During this period she continued to draw, a medium she worked in alongside sculpture. In 1929 she returned to Israel and settled in Tel Aviv, where she she remained until her death in 1992. For many years she worked in a small studio in her modest apartment on Nahum Street. Only a small sign placed by the Tel Aviv Municipality in front of the building, commemorates her long-standing work in the city.

The first and perhaps the best-known sculptures among her monumental works is the memorial Work and Protection on Kibbutz Hulda (1937). Human beings are always at the centre of her oeuvre, in portraits that capture the essence of a figure or in memorials in which individuals are joined into a single, powerful, symbolic collective. In her free compositions, ideas and emotions are defined by means of the human body and gestures. Her memorials, portraits and miniatures gave expression to the turmoil of a total artist, a creative woman and a lesbian compelled to define her gender identity in a society that sanctioned unity, socialism and the Labour movement.
B. Lishansky maintained deep and supportive relationships with her sisters and her mother, and complex, stormy affairs with creative women, most notably with the painter Anna Neuman (1906-1955), who was her partner for many years. During her last years, she was accompanied in her work by her student and friend, the artist Ariela Epstein, who later attended to her estate and her commemoration. A small number of B. Lishank‎y’s sculptures and portraits were given by the artist to the museum Beit Hashomer on Kibbutz Kfar Giladi while she was still alive. In 2020 the museum inaugurated a reconstruction of her studio, which includes models and preparatory sketches for her works. Her private archive is preserved in the Pinhas Lavon Institute for Labour Movement Research in Tel Aviv.

Nirit Shalev Khalifa

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