'Nude Painting of Israeli Minister Was Offensive to Women. It's Not Political'

On the line with Prof. Yuli Tamir, president of Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Arts, who this week ordered that a student painting of a nude Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked could be exhibited only if the face was blacked out.

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Yam Amrani's work in its original state.
Yam Amrani's work in its original state.Credit: Arnon Ben Dror
Nir Gontarz
Nir Gontarz

Hello, is this Prof. Yuli Tamir?

Yes.

Nir Gontarz from Haaretz here. Pleased to meet you. Tell me, besides being president of Shenkar, what else do you do since retiring from the frontline of public life?

The truth is that this is a full-time job. And I also write and engage in social activity of different kinds. A range of things.

Nice. You know why I’m calling, right?

Of course. You’re number 938. The 938th caller.

Okay, so let’s start with a fine recitation of everything you’ve said to the others.

It’s a bit boring, but I’ll tell you. To me, the work in question – which is a section of a very, very large painting – reflects the objectification of women. The work contains no political or social statement or message of any kind. In situations like these, the human affront is more serious than the decision not to exhibit it and [thereby] not cause offense. It would be the same if it were a picture of [MK] Haneen Zoabi or [MK] Zehava Galon

Listen, you’re a former education minister and a former member of Knesset. You’re sounding to me like a politician and not like the president of an academic institution that is engaged with art. You are asserting that this work has no message and

Excuse me. Excuse me. I didn’t say it does not have a message. Please quote me accurately. I said that it is not a political work and it doesn’t have a social message.

Yuli Tamir.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Read Yuli Tamir's response to Haaretz's Editorial claiming she should resign

And you say this as an art critic?

I say it as a beholder of the picture.

But you are only one beholder – there are thousands more.

By the way, I have to tell you two things. No one who viewed the picture [displayed as part of the graduates' final exhibition] has claimed that it’s a political work. I haven’t heard anything like that. And second, there are works in the exhibition that are far more political.

All right, I’ll go along with you, because after all, I’m not an art critic, either, and we’ll call a spade a spade: Your Honor simply censored a student’s work of art. Just like that.

I think that between freedom of expression and the necessity of not hurting anyone, especially not women – that is [a subject] close to my heart – and hurting women in a way that diminishes them, that turns them into objects, then

I’m not sure all women will think as you do. This is a collage that attaches the face of Minister Ayelet Shaked to a painting of a nude body, which is definitely not pornographic or crass. Maybe what the artist wanted to say – and I haven’t spoken to him – is that when Minister Shaked takes off the suit, she remains a naked person: like me, like you, like everyone. He is shedding her of her demagogy and her suit, and showing her in her starkness.

Interesting interpretation.

Thank you, thank you.

But if there is something offensive about it?

Who are you to decide that a particular work of art is offensive? And even if it is, so what? It’s art.

Yam Amrani's painting of Ayelet Shaked, after it was censored.Credit: Arnon Ben Dor / TimeOut

My role at Shenkar is to make decisions.

Including decisions to censor works of art? Are you sure?

I think that it is part of my job to decide how the school will be run.

Terrific. But running the school, in my opinion, doesn’t include censoring works of students.

Before Ayelet Shaked became minister of justice, she was an MK. We held a political conference that Ayelet Shaked didn’t like. She protested, and I told her it was a political issue that was worthy of discussion. I took it upon myself to continue the conference.

What’s the connection? On what basis do you, as president, decide to censor works of art?

It is my role to decide It’s the work of a student.

I rest my case. It’s not your statement. It’s the statement of a student.

The courts have said more than once that when we exhibit a work, we stand behind it. We have paid fines for this on more than one occasion I think that the way to treat women in the public sphere, to treat political women

And if it was Mr. Lieberman [a reference to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman]?

The same.

Okay, so we’re not talking about an affront to women, but an affront to politicians.

The fact is that it’s not Lieberman. It’s a type of diminishment of women. A public figure has the right not to be insulted in a manner that has nothing to do with the positions he takes.

Let’s say that Shaked – or any other man or woman – had contacted you if you hadn’t censored the work, and said that it constitutes diminishment and objectification. In that case, you could have said that the work represents only the student-artist and that this is how art works, and sometimes it’s crass and sometimes it objectifies, and I, Yuli Tamir, would not have produced a work like this, but it’s the student’s right.

That would not have kept the person from being offended.

Let him be offended. It’s not your job to protect political figures from being offended. Your job is to protect the freedom of art.

No. There are thousands of ways to offend a political person. You can ridicule his ideas, criticize him. You can write very harsh things about him.

But the artist did not publish a picture of her in the nude. He created a collage.

He created a feeling a woman You are coming out against her femininity.

Maybe he was saying, “Ayelet Shaked has no clothes” – like the famous emperor in the fairy tale?

Fine But as far as I am concerned I am always complaining to the students that there aren’t enough political works. This is not a political work. It’s a work that hurt a human being.

Did you speak to her? How do you know she was hurt?

I won’t comment on that.

What do you mean you won’t comment on that? You said the work hurt a human being. What’s the basis for that? Did she visit the exhibition? Did she see the work? Was she offended? Did she write a letter?

I don’t comment on private conversations.

Well, that’s 10 times worse, because now the situation could be that you censored a work of art at the demand of a political figure. Alternatively, if you say she was offended without your knowing it’s so – that’s strange, too.

No one asked me to remove it. A political person also deserves human respect. In drawing the line between criticism and upholding a politician’s dignity as a human being – maybe because I was often hurt by people crossing that line – you have to draw a very clear line.

You know that the head of the department [a reference to Larry Abramson, head of the Multidisciplinary Art School at Shenkar] doesn’t agree with you. He said it was an unconscionable act.

I know. So we have an intellectual argument, and we will conduct it. Maybe in the end Shenkar will offer a course on “ethics and art.”

What? I thought that within the framework of the law and a little beyond, that everything is allowed in art. After all, it’s A-R-T.

There are many ways to practice art and still maintain people’s dignity – and politicians, for this purpose, are people.

Fine, fine. Thanks for the open conversation.

Good bye.

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