Archive for ‘English texts’

אפריל 26, 2015

The Great Mother in Israeli Art







The second diagram in Erich Neumann's 1954 "The Great Mother" depicts a vessel, a big jar that connects the darkness, the night, the underworld – the unconscious – with heaven through a structure of the archetypal feminine – the mother. Here, the level of the womb equals that of the grave, turning the woman-jar into an urn, whereas her mouth connects and leads through her breath up to the moon. The inside of the vessel, wrote Neumann, is unknown, though "something is 'born' out of it."[1] No less, the archetypal feminine vessel protects and nourishes, but may also swallow, i.e. – devour. Thus,

"The lowest level of this belly zone is the underworld […]. To this world belong not only the subterranean darkness as hell and night but also such symbols as chasm, cave, abyss, valley, depths…"[2]

Because –

"Just as the Great Mother can be terrible as well as good, so the Archetypal Feminine is not only a giver and protector of life but, as container, also holds fast and takes back; she is the goddess of life and death at once."[3] [and we are watching the famous Willendorf Venus from 28,000-25,000 BC]


During the upcoming hour or less I am asking you to join me along a journey through the Great Mothers of Israeli art, avoiding some embarrassing cases of ultra nationalistic expressions, such as this 1948 painting of Mane Katz (the famous Jewish painter who worked both in Paris and Haifa), representing the Great National Mother nourishing her dead children, victims of 1948 War of Independence.


Let me though open with a short reminder from the sphere of Israeli poetry, illustrating it by two Israei paintings, one of a semi-abstract pregnant Earth (Ori Reisman's work from 1970) and another of the mythic Earth being both a grave and an existential space of pregnancy (see the woman) and even of a motherly cow (Avraham Offek's work from 1989):


Already in Hebrew poetry of the mid 1920's, the pioneers era, the land was repeatedly depicted in mythological terms as both Mother Earth – the one that gives birth and life – and as a deadly mother who demands the sacrifice of her sons, the pioneers. In Abraham Shlonsky's famous 1925 "Gilboa Poems", a radical case of Oedipal complex [if one may mention such a Freudian term in the context of a Jungian/Neumannian conference] characterizes the relationships between the son and his Mother-Earth:

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