The Abduction of Helen

This young woman is taking part in a discussion of the future, or at least of dissatisfaction with the present.

This photograph by Ariel Schalit, full of force and movement, hides a painting. A small, unsophisticated painting, simplistic even, but one that is powerfully expressive. Schalit takes his photograph from above. He sees foreheads and caps, captures motion and anguish and illuminates the profile of a slender young woman who appears to be lying deep in a well and at the center of a whirlpool; all around her hands are pulling and some are reaching out to help. Her stomach has just been exposed because of the shoving, like Helen of Troy in paintings of her abduction; her mouth is open in a yell, her arms are spread to the sides and her shoulders are crossed by the floral strips of her backpack.

This girl is being dragged by seen and unseen police officers during the second big protest on July 30 at the junction of Ibn Gvirol and Shaul Hamelech Streets in Tel Aviv. Because the demonstrations for social justice arose, were understood and continued as our demonstrations, as everyones protest, including the wage-earning police officers, the police did not treat these protesters in the same aggressive, frightened, violent way in which they usually deal with peace demonstrators (as if the question of peace has nothing to do with the quality of life for Israelis, and as if the protesters money doesnt end up over the Green Line). This photograph therefore also depicts concern for the girls well-being, mainly in the body language of the man in nylon pants, and in the outstretched arms of the policemen who are trying to clear a space for her and give her room to breathe.
But it is not just the damsel in distress who is present here, but also another damsel, who saves her, and on her right arm and shoulder are the painting that is in the photograph, an elaborate and sprawling tattoo, rich in ink. A siren on the prow of a ship and above her, just under the shoulder, an anchor. This is a painting that deals with mythology and sailing, with eternity and sea goddesses. It is forever etched upon this protester, wearing a sailor top, who with her actions joins in a broad discourse, in a social movement, in a circle of solidarity.

removal of protester
Ariel Schalit

On his blog, Under the Table, Dror Burstein talked about tattoos that symbolize the relationship between two kinds of time: the time of the human body which is limited and the time of the illustration, which is eternal. He also makes a beautiful analogy in which he depicts the tattooed person as a young guard in a museum standing alongside a painting of a god. As the years pass, the guard grows old, but the god remains young. One day the old, stooped guard collapses at the foot of the painting.

Burstein thinks tattoos are a symptomatic Israeli expression of disregard for the future, but this photograph shows otherwise. This young woman, leaning over her friend, is taking part in a discussion of the future, or at least of dissatisfaction with the present. More than an attempt to stop time, her tattoo is an attempt to stop beauty. A rebellion against beauty, an act of self-mutilation that defies the sanctity and purity of the skin. When this protester chose her illustration at the tattoo parlor, did she envision herself bending over her friend demonstrating for social justice in the streets of Tel Aviv?

Maybe she hoped the picture would immunize her against fear. Maybe she thought the picture would give her strength. It did.