Gil Yefman Knits Together Issues of Gender, Sexuality, and Otherness

Artist Gil Yefman’s practice is multifarious and surprising. A walk through his newest show reveals glycerin soap bars embedded with swastikas, a neon sign spelling out a pejorative term for women, a portrait painting of Hitler’s mother, and knitted sculptures—confounding works that exude themes of gender and violence. Now celebrating his first New York solo exhibition, “To Me You Are Beautiful (Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn),” at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, the Israeli artist holds nothing back, in a presentation that weaves together issues of gender, sexuality, trauma, and otherness. He explains: “My work is aimed at inspiring all peoples; it is meant to transcend differences among human beings and encourage all of us to cherish and explore the intrinsic potential of the world we live in.”

An exhibition highlight is the monumental sculpture Tumtum (2012), a giant knitted globe that hangs from the ceiling, comprised of numerous smaller knitted parts, mainly male and female genitalia, eyeballs, other body parts, and drops of blood. With its title referring to the Hebrew word to describe an individual with unknown or ambiguous sexuality, the work delves into a dialogue on societal norms of beauty and gender, and essentially, the idea that everyone possesses a certain degree of otherness. Visually and conceptually astounding, the work confronts and challenges its viewer, with imagery and allusions to ideology that together form a disquieting narrative that is both intriguing—the craftsmanship alone is stunning—and impossible to overlook.

This message is even more arresting in a key installation titled H—which stands for the Holocaust, Hitler, and other high-ranking Nazi officials Himmler and Heydrich—described in the show’s press release as “a copulation chamber in a concentration camp brothel.” At the center is a knitted “sex slave,” which introduces a performative and participatory element to the exhibition, where visitors are encouraged to interact with the doll, assuming the role of “the aggressor.” Confronting trauma head on, and wielding knitting needles as his unlikely weapons, Yefman delivers a message intended to incite conversation and ultimately encourage healing.

To Me You Are Beautiful (Bay Mir Bistu Sheyn)” is on view at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York, May 10th–June 14th, 2014.

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