Batia Shani, Afraid to become prisoner of war, 2015, embroidered envelope, 13.2 x 18.4 cm. Image courtesy of Tamar Dresdner Art Projects
BASEL, SWITZERLAND – The unrest in the Middle East has been a major cause of concern for people around the world. For citizens of countries in the middle east, the fear is even greater. The endless unrest and political instability in the middle east has engendered great fear and anxiety among citizens of the middle east countries. That fear and anxiety is at the core of Batia Shani’s installation at Volta 11 in Basel. Titled Tissue, the installation address the issues of war, gender discrimination and the apprehension that comes with unstable political situations and war.
Tissue is made of envelopes on which Batia Shani embroiders her fears in Hebrew, Arabic & English. Complementing the embroideries are handmade miniature dresses, made out of fabric scraps and pieces of army uniforms. ‘These dresses are a visualization of a perpetual state of simultaneous absence and presence’ Shani notes.
For more than a decade now, Middle East news has been filled with devastating stories of war, civil unrests and terrorism. From the war between Israel and Palestine to unrest in Egypt and the war in Syria, news from the Middle East has been characterized by one tumultuous event after another.
Looking at the Middle East map, almost all the countries in the middle east have been affected by political unrest and the fear of terrorism pervading the area. From Syria to Egypt to Iran, Yemen, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan and many others, everyday is characterized by the fear of impending danger.
Of late, however, Iraqi has become the focus of attention in the middle east. The incursion of ISIS, the terrorist group that has continued to kill Christians, Muslims and Westerners, has made Iraq the center of unrest in the Middle East. In addition to the killing of innocent people, ISIS has also tried to eradicate the rich history of Iraq by destroying important ancient artifacts. In a video released by the group recently, member of the terrorist group are seen destroying original Assyrian artifacts at Mosul Museum in northern Iraq. Also at nearby Nineveh archaeological site the group went after historical artifacts with the main objective of eliminating the history of the Assyrian.
A section of the Shani’s installation address the fears and anxiety that have become part of the endless unrest in the Middle East. One of the works titled Afraid to become prisoner of war, 2015, touches on the greatest fear of many people in the Middle East. With the beheading of people by ISIS in Iraq and the capturing of Israeli soldiers by Hamas in Palestine, this peace touches on the heart of the trepidation that have overtaken many citizens of the middle east nation. Embroidered on an envelope, the 13.2 x 18.4 cm piece exposes suppressed fear that have traumatized many citizens of the Middle East countries.
As an Israeli and social worker who has worked with people who have suffered trauma as a consequence of war, terrorism and bereavement, Shani has had directly experience of fear and anxiety. That experience is even more explicit based on her role as a wife and mother of Israeli soldiers. The cumulating experience of fear and anxiety in the Middle East is captured in Untitled, Untitled, 2015, encapsulate the trauma that comes with uncertainty, unstable political situation and war. Embroidered on 2 envelopes is the sentence “I am afraid to carry on the trauma my parents experienced as holocaust survivors.” This statement aptly captures the pain that has come to dominate the mind of many people in the Middle East.
Beyond the fear and anxiety created by war, Shani’s installation also address the issue of masculinity and femininity as it affects the life of a soldier. A section of the installation features dresses the artist made during the 2014 war in Gaza. The dresses incorporates male uniforms associated with war within the feminine dresses . Although the images are intended to create a sense of confusion, they are very revealing of the composition the brave soldiers who go out and fight in wars. While the soldiers are bold in the war front showing off their masculinity, in their private moment, however, they cry and mourn the loss of friends even as they struggle with the trauma of the experience of war.
Presented by Tamar Dresdner Art Projects, Batia Shani installation represents her experience of the Middle East which has been in turmoil for decades. But more importantly, it reflects her experience of her homeland of Israel. Born 1954 in Haifa, Israel, Shani has had direct experience of wars, terrorism and political unrest. Her work as a social worker also brought her in close contact with the impact of trauma on people.
With all the imbibed experiences of events in her homeland, it is not surprising that Shani will use her works to address these issues. Shani has a BFA from Haifa University, School of Social Work, Israel. After graduating in 1977, she went on to The Royal School of Needlepoint, London, UK and later Midrasha, Calmania, School of Art, Beit Berl College, Israel. Her works made up of embroidery and painting have been featured in museums and galleries across the globe.