Cockeye: Male Nude in Contemporary Israeli Art, exhibition catalogue, Gal on Art Space, 2009
curator: Sagi Refael
The ‘other’ is easily identified as such by its distinctive features, which are completely different from the qualities of its viewers. Every man is born without a cloth to his skin, and without a costume that reveals social and economic status, education, or ethnic origin, it is difficult to catalogue the subject of the viewer’s gaze. In ‘Phillip’ by Uri Gershuni we are confronted with our prejudices while trying to identify the male standing fully nude in front of us. On the background of a pale and textured wall, stand a bearded young man, a thin, dark down covers his body giving him the appearance of a shy satyr.
His wide eyes are directed straight at the anonymous viewer in a sincere, penetrating look. His arms are limp along his body, his dark pubic hair draws the viewer’s gaze, from the head of this figure to its loins, almost completely distracting the attention from his penis blurred at the background of his inner thighs. The contrast between the manly, hairy and eastern ‘looks’ and his somewhat shy, soft and somewhat feminine curves of his back and bottom, causes a bit of confusion. An instinctive opinion will determine that he is an Arab man, shown in such a vulnerable and exposed way that almost contradicts the prejudice of Arabs as aggressive, proud and orthodox modest people. But actually, what makes us think that he is Arab? It might be an instinctive dismissal of his Israeliness on one hand, or of his European or Anglo-saxon appearance on the other hand. His darkness and general hairiness, especially his beard that matches the stereotype Arab appearance, might tag him also as an eastern origin Jew, or even an especially courageous orthodox. Standing in front of a nude missing any identifying signs, causes the viewer an embarrassment that quickly needs to be understood. But an observation that leads to
tagging by an unbiased sight, should remember to recognize that there is an equal starting point for all human beings, to which nudity testifies in the first place.