Israeli Art

Keffiyeh 33

Keffiyeh 33
  • Tsibi Geva Born 1951, Kibbutz Ein Shemer
  • Keffiyeh 33
  • 1990
  • Mixed media on canvas
  • 178x176cm
  • The Isracard and Tel Aviv Museum of Art Prize for an Israeli Artist, 1997

The keffiyeh – the traditional Arab headdress that has become a potent political icon in the Middle East – is a central motif in Tsibi Geva’s work, where it appears in various combinations and arrangements. Keffiyeh 33 is one of the early works in a series of
hundreds of paintings that he has created on various supports.

Geva's choice of the keffiyeh motif is linked to the transformation of this image over the years from a symbol of the Arab tilling his land, which was adopted by the “New Jew” who made the desert flourish in Israel’s pre-independence days, to the unmistakable symbol of a Palestinian society struggling for independence. The charged symbolism of the keffiyeh, like other motifs in Geva’s work, acquires a complex dialectic meaning as it is transformed into a painterly element. Its twisting and undulating black lines form ornamental arabesques, which are circumscribed within a decorative frame; situated in this new cultural context, the pattern acquires the appearance of a grid, a
lattice, or a grill that is enticing in its movement and deceiving in its abstract beauty, while also blocking and restricting the observer's view.

The artistic appropriation of the keffiyeh, and the transformation of a political Arab icon into a modernist Western painting, reflect the dialectic that characterizes Geva’s entire oeuvre: it bespeaks an act of identification with the Other who is also the “enemy,” while fearing, recoiling from, and rejecting the Other's heroic imagery. In an Israeli context, Keffiyeh 33 is a psychological snapshot of the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; in a more universal context, this image confronts the viewer with an enticing, menacing form of beauty. Another reading of this work may also interpret it as a critical metaphor for political and cultural colonialism, which appropriates not only territories but also images.



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