Middle East & Africa

Yael Bartana
A Declaration

Yael Bartana’s video work A Declaration was shot in southern Tel Aviv, on the visible border between that city and Jaffa. It begins with the sound of waves and the image of the Israeli flag that fills the entire screen. This is followed by the whirring sounds of a helicopter. A young man in a white undershirt rows a boat carrying an olive tree in its place. With her camera work Bartana seems to flirt with 1930s Jewish National Fund (JNF) propaganda photography on the one hand, and with Leni Riefenstahl’s photographic technique, like the use of soft focus that distorts the perspective and vanishing point, on the other, A Declaration already attests to the action itself: on Andromeda’s Rock, Bartana replaces the Israeli flag with an olive tree. While this is indeed an act performed in a media context, it nevertheless takes place in the sphere of Israeli reality.

(exh.cat. Kunstverein in Hamburg, Hatje Cantz, 2007, p. 93)

The work of Yael Bartana investigates the imagination and imagery of identity and the politics of national memory and identity. Her interest in understanding and examining national statehood stems from being born in Israel, and being surrounded by the perpetual production of collective national identity. After completing her studies, Bartana undertook what she called ‘amateur anthropological’ research into ritual and myth making to take a critical perspective towards her own history and nationality. As a result of her politically charged practice that often deals with Jewish identity in Israel and abroad, she has garnered significant criticism, notably being labeled as anti-Zionist and a self-hating Jew. Despite this criticism, Bartana believes that, through her work as an artist, exploring both political statehood and religious and political diaspora, she is responsible for addressing these issues. Bartana believes that growing up in such a politically charged state requires artists to become either political artists, or escapists.