Nechama Golan

1947 | Tel Aviv, Palestine
Nechama Golan — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Portrait de Nechama Golan

Israeli sculptor, photographer, and installation artist.

Born and raised in Tel Aviv as a secular Israeli, Nechama Golan studied art at the Avni Institute of Art and Design of Tel-Aviv but then distanced herself from the art scene during her journey towards becoming an Orthodox Jew. Returning to the local art scene in 1990, N. Golan is now one of the most important Jewish Orthodox feminist artists in Israel.
While dealing with various complex subjects such as the Holocaust and the relationship between Jewish and Islamic cultures, the core of N. Golan’s work engages with gender and feminist issues from the perspective of a Jewish Orthodox woman. Addressing the status of women in the Jewish religious patriarchal system, N. Golan uses a large variety of materials, including soil, ceramics and textile in different mediums. N. Golan often chooses to incorporate texts from Jewish scriptures, enlisting them to offer a new reading of religious feminist contemporary discourse. N. Golan’s seminal work, You Shall Walk in Virtuous Ways (1999-2011), for instance, consists of a high platform-heeled sandal covered with copies of the first page of Tractate Kiddushin, a sacred rabbinical text from late antiquity that deals with the acquisition of the woman by the man during the Jewish marriage ceremony. Diverting the sacred text from its original purpose and context, the work offers various levels of interpretation, criticising at once both the sexist institution of Jewish marriage and the objectivation of women’s bodies in secular Western culture.

But as much as N. Golan’s art scrutinises the Jewish religious system, through the subversion of sacred texts for instance, her work always operates within the religious order, from which she never disengages. Committed to respect the sacredness of the scriptures and the Halakhic obligation to preserve them in a synagogue or a designated cemetery (geniza), N. Golan does not sell such works but put them in a geniza and stamps the word on the photographs.

Nevertheless, although she remains clearly positioned in her observant religious milieu, N. Golan’s critical view keeps her artworks banned by the conservative religious establishment.

Her use of sacred Jewish texts is not limited to gender and feminist issues. In her work Behold, You Are Now Devoted to Me (2005), for example, Hebrew letters forming the sacred words pronounced by the groom at the central moment of the Jewish wedding ceremony, just before he puts the ring around the bride’s finger, are filled by Arabic letters constituting, together, a ring lying on clods of earth. Resonating with the acquisition of the woman by the groom during the marriage ritual, the use of these two languages reflects the charged local political situation, where two different populations claim ownership over one land.

For her pioneering work and her courage, which paved the path for other artists of all genders, in 2021 N. Golan was awarded the Becky Dekel Award for the Outstanding Woman Artist in Israel by the Association for Women’s Art and Gender Research in Israel.

Keren Dagan

A notice produced as part of the TEAM international academic network: Teaching, E-learning, Agency and Mentoring

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