Yocheved Weinfeld, *1947 in Legnica, Poland
Born to Holocaust survivors, the artist spent the first 10 years of her childhood in Post-World War II Poland. Although her parents were silent about their past, Yocheved pieced together scrapes of information and imagined the rest. Powerful images from her formative years in Poland – anti-Semitic incidents and horrifying tales about the Holocaust, but also intimate experiences such as her first menstruation, came to dominate her art.
The year 1973 marked a crucial turning point in Weinfeld’s development as an artist. She began to experiment with sewing, using stitches on paper instead of drawn lines. Political as well as personal events of that year – Israel’s Yom Kippur War in which thousands of soldiers were killed and or maimed and her mother’s illness and surgery – turned her endeavour into an art of acute personal meaning, the stitches ressembling painful scars and the paper taking on the properties of flesh. The artist’s empathy with the suffering of others compelled her to absorb the pain into her own body. She used photography of her own body, which she cut and sewed again into contorted, scarred self-portraits. The expressive quality of these works, with their distressing sadomasochist overtones, is immediately apparent. At this point Weinfeld also began to use her unique female experiences and sexual identity as central themes in her art. Although she doesn’t declare herself a feminist, she reflects in her works a ‘female consciousness’ akin to feminist positions.
On the works in the exhibition:
Weinfeld’s use of emotionally charged memories as raw material for her works became more and more pronounced. She delved into her childhood memories and trauma and used them as a point of departure for her one-woman show in 1979. Weinfeld’s work #5 is out of a series of ten works, following her childhood in Poland. The works are titled with numbers according to the age of the artist at that time. Each starts with a photo of Weinfeld as child on the right hand and is accompanied by a short text. Experiencing Anti-Semitism, overhearing stories of the Holocaust and dealing with her own feeling of being an outsider, these memories turn into painfully ambivalent images. ‘In the concentration camps, where all the Jews were dirty and hungry there were also beautiful women whom the Germans loved. So the women would beat Jews and get food. Now they are being punished. Their heads are shaven.’ This story, part of work #8, was overheard by the artist as a child and incised in her mind the question what she, forced to face a similar situation, would have been, a victim or a collaborator? It turned into a powerful image of herself as a concentration camp ‘Kapo’ and shows Weinfeld, beautifully made-up, sitting on top of a garbage pile. Even a Kapo is part of the the inmates – human garbage. In the whole series she obsessively re-enacts excruciating moments of humiliation but also complicity. She shows herself dressed in the striped uniform of concentration camp inmates, imitating the empty stare of the so called ‚Muselmänner‘, the living dead populating the Nazi death camps. Humiliated by a polish boy, who pissed on her legs, the mature artist transfigures this memory into a rape scene. Conversely the vulnerable, victimized jewish girl longs to become a non-jewish male and Weinfeld portrays herself as a self-confident police officer. Number #5, confronting the viewer with an inescapable anti-Semitism Weinfeld experienced by her polish neighbourghs, is followed by #6, where she joins her polish playmates torturing a defenseless animal to become part of their comradery. The artist supposes all people, including those who themselves experience victimhood, are able to humiliate and torture their fellow creatures. Weinfeld demonstrates with her self-portraits that she suspects herself to be no exception and her works are painfully expressing her disturbing feelings.
After moving to Israel, she became a protégé of the renowned Israeli artist Raffi Lavie. She had her first one woman show at the age of 22 and only 32 years old – in 1979 – she had a one-woman show at the Israel Museum. Since the 70s she has shown her work in numerous solo exhibitions in Israel. She participated in numerous international group exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide. Her work can be found in the collections of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, the Kunsthalle Hamburg, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, the Tel Aviv Museum, Israel, the Haifa Museum, Israel and various private collections around the world.
The text above is based on the text:
‚Yocheved Weinfeld’s portraits of the self‘, Gannit Ankori, (Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 10 no.2, 1989).