Think of a woman you probably don’t know, personally, but admire in some way. A woman from current days, or eras long gone. A woman who might have had an influence on the world in some way; but definitely on you. Her ideas, or beliefs, made her a trendsetter; maybe through her talents or deeds. Where does this woman “meet” you? With which aspects of her personality do you identify? If you had a line of communication with her, what would you tell her? And why? And then if you wanted to thank her in some way, to give her a little “hat tip”, what would you do?
We decided on a photography project which we called “Bocharot” or “We Choose” (feminine-plural). For the purposes of the project, women of all ages on Kibbutz Nirim – from 30 to 90 – were challenged with finding a female persona whom we admire, for whatever reason, and then finding a photograph of her, researching her, learning to understand her, and finally – dressing up as and being photographed as she, herself, posed in that chosen likeness, frozen in time.
The women in my desert community, here on the sometimes volatile border, chose to take on this project, modeled after one originally conceived and implemented this past spring by Shibolet Gilat, an artist from Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. We embraced the spark she passed on, and made it our own. Our project is called: “Bocharot” or “We Choose”. Thirty-three women chose to rise to the challenge and another 30 were involved in different capacities, behind the scenes. We spent evenings meeting, talking, consulting, and sharing. A Whatsapp group buzzed alive: “Does anyone have earrings like these?” “Can anyone help me find a dress like this?”.
Then, during the course of two weekends in July, the magic began. The hairdresser’s salon became a make-over factory. Photographs of the target personae were taped to mirrors, to use as models as the women spun and painted and worked on transforming each one of us in turn, almost into someone else. Each of us contributed the skills we could: this one had learnt some art, that one could sew. These kept the food coming and those went around looking for suitable settings to get as close as possible to the original background: a forest, a garden, the Sahara desert…. The office next door was transformed into a photography studio. We each had our 30 minutes in the limelight, with all attention on the object of the camera of the moment, to the minutest detail. At each photo shoot, in addition to the photographer, the reflector-holder and photography consultant, there were at least one or two helpers, trying to manipulate the subjects of the photograph (each of us in turn), as one would manipulate a manikin, into poses duplicating those in the original photographs. The talented professional photographer, Sigal Beker, was head-hunted and hired specially, because we wanted a woman photographer, and “Hosen”, the Regional Emotional Health Support team that helped fund this project, stipulated that the photographer be a resident of the Eshkol Region. The only male in the project was the photographer’s husband, Gil (and for that, he has earned honorary female status 😉 )
During the ensuring weeks, while Sigal whittled down the thousands of shots to the final and most accurate 31, we all had our work cut out for us, as well. We read, researched and learned more about the personality we were emulating, so that we could compose an accompanying page giving the most important details of our subject’s life and achievements, and then explaining what this woman means to us. From among us, we had editors, prodders, and cheerleaders, egging us on so that we would be ready for the opening night (October 5th).
A few weeks ago we rolled up our sleeves and scrubbed the windows, walls and floor of the structure which now houses our exhibition, and then the interior designers among us turned what was our old, abandoned community dining room awaiting reconstruction, into a temporary art gallery to exhibit the fruits of our communal, feminine labor and love. Lighting was added, huge swaths of cloth were hung to add ambience, while camouflaging that which is unsightly. Flowers arrangements were designed. The red ribbon was positioned, ready for cutting.
On opening night, it was just us – the 60 of us who worked directly on the project. The aim was to celebrate together, and allow each of us some intimate time to warm up to our photos. None of us had seen them before opening night. And it’s NOT easy to look at yourself, as someone else, with all your (mostly self-perceived) “imperfections” caught digitally on the camera and exposed for all the world to see.
We gathered at the site of what had been temporarily our photography studio and together, dressed for the occasion in all our finery, strode proudly to see what awaited us. The excitement was tangible, and we were impatient to finally see what was in store. Two of the women who were the main force behind this project of girl-power, said a few words, cut the red ribbon, and then we proudly floated up the stairs into the exhibition hall, where the twinkle in our eyes competed with the twinkling garlands of light, illuminating the likenesses of the women we attempted to emulate.
In addition to the photographs, biographies and explanations, there is a running projection of behind the scenes photographs of this fascinating project, accompanied by background music chosen by the participants. The exhibition doors have been open for the past week, and will be open during the coming days, and weekends throughout the month. So, if you happen to be in the southern region and are looking for a cultural, invested, empowering female experience, check it out. If you are not sure of the opening times, you are welcome to write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.*
*Note: the exhibition texts are all written in Hebrew.