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Tami Barlev


He and she. Both are bound by the same black cloth. He is exposed. Bare-headed. The contours of his face and body are unhindered. She is covered. Her body is entirely wrapped in black cloth. Her green eyes are her only window to the world. The sun is burning. Sheep are grazing in a green meadow. Slowly she unrolls the cloth from her body. It unfurls and spins out, only to furl back around him. The more she unfolds, the more he is enfolded. In one black moment, their roles are reversed.

Tami Barlev creates this visual protest-manifesto to unveil and shed light on what religion and culture consider as natural - woman’s modesty as a response to the male gaze. Like the act of reading a Torah scroll with dark anti-egalitarian text, Barlev slowly unscrolls her proposal for a new agenda in which laws of modesty are to be applied to the male sex in order to protect and preserve man’s dignity. What is modesty and what is its function? Religious discourse on modesty is based on the assumption that a man's gaze is inherently sexual, making it incumbent upon women to cover themselves in order to protect their dignity and maintain their modesty. This perception limits women’s participation in the public sphere and asserts control over their behavior, clothing, thoughts, feelings and movements.
The question of the “male gaze” has been extensively discussed in various fields such as psychoanalysis, gender studies, cinema, and visual culture. It is generally agreed that, in contrast to the act of “seeing” which is physiological, the process of “looking at” reflects the culture that is ingrained in us and derives from the way we give meaning to what we see. Over centuries, the art world has been instrumental in reinforcing the concept of woman’s de-valorized status from independent subject to an object that can be regulated, managed, educated and disciplined by a set of religious, social and cultural codes. The black veil allows Barlev to expose the woman beneath the folds of fabric like one would disclose a valuable treasure, and to break the visual cloning that turns veiled women into a homogenous group with no identity. In doing so, Barlev calls for an act that rejects obscurantist cultures and traditions. She stirs up views and conventions that bound and restrict women, and brings to light the aspiration for freedom and equality that should be common to all.                                              

Written by: Orly Roman

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