Last month the Shenkar Insititute of design and engineering in Israel held its first of two graduate shows. The audience was scattered with Israeli celebrities including Amir Mann and Keren More. I’ve been to some graduate shows, but not many have been glitzy enough affairs to be host to many more than the friends and parents of the graduates, who are typically ordinary, unless one of them happens to have Stella McCartney for a daughter.
The New York Times reports that about halfway through the show, which was complete with loud pulsating music, audience members started receiving warning text messages that the Sirens were wailing and there were dangers of impending rockets aimed for Tel Aviv. Leah Perez, head of the Shenkar Institute’s Fashion department decided, despite being in a big exhibition space without any shelter, that the show must go on. She made her decision on the firm belief that art and education should reign supreme, that the student’s work deserved to be seen and afterwards stated simply “life goes on.”
Some people may find this reaction a little odd, or even stupid. What, after all, has fashion, or design, or any art at all got to do with war and conflict? Where do those beautiful and superficial things sit amongst that mess, and what does the cut of a fabric or the use of a colour matter when the death toll in the Middle East is increasing at an appalling rate.
Yet there must be a real fundamental need for these things that we wear because at the risk of simplifying things, if there wasn’t, what place would fashion have in war-torn Afghanistan? Ukraine held its Fashion Week in Kiev in March during the height of the political turbulence over the Russian occupation. Zambia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has a Fashion Week and last year, and three years ago, Tel Aviv Fashion Week was re-started after a thirty year hiatus.
In short, what we wear has everything to do with who we are, as well as who we aspire to be and so to promote that belief in the face of adversity is not simply courageous, it is paramount. However, when any group is squeezed to its limits whereby it can no longer find refuge in schools or hospitals, where its spirit has been so diminished that the creative freedom and the basic human right to express the self freely through garb or other means has been seriously curtailed, then one would hope that the people in the fashion community, educated women like Leah Perez, would take further action and extend their belief of letting the show go on to making sure that life goes on too. That’s what I would hope the graduates’ work mostly expressed at this show which went ahead despite the apparent impending dangers.
Fashion is a means of expression and often artists and designers draw from current political activity and unrest as a means of expressing and assessing current political situations, showing us examples or inventions of our worst or better selves. Orit Freilich, a senior lecturer at Shenkar sometimes asks his students if they want to make work which deals with the situation around them, and he states that they more often than not say no – that they wish to dream of something else.
Escapism is a pillar upon which art and design may partly rest. Though the artist-designer is undoubtedly held by a duty to express the realities and the ugliness of the situations at hand. And, yes, there are some active, and successful designers in Israel, who are aware of duty in their art, and who express equality and freedom in their work and in their businesses. Dorin Frankfurt, established her business in 1975 on the premise that all labels say “designed and maufactured in Tel Aviv”, she owns her own local factory specifically created to hire workers of all cultural identities. And one footwear student in the Shenkar gradutating class had, as her senior project, shoes with the Arabic word “Freedom” sculpted in three dimensions on the soles. But unfortunately the Shenkar graduation show itself was void of any real expression of the current atrocities taking place, with the publication Haaretz describing the show as a “cheerful spirit of comic strips” carrying with it a simple message, “let us entertain you.”
Let’s hope Perez’s decision to continue the Shenkar showcase had more to do with education and creative expression than entertainment. Thankfully there were no casualties after the graduate show, which Perez closed with a final speech explaining that the post-show champagne party would be cancelled in the interest of safety. One wonders if the same show had taken place in Gaza if the participants and spectators would have been so fortunate, post-show champagne aside, where schools and hospitals are being targeted and the death toll is reaching horrifying levels.
At the end of the show, Perez reports that “everyone was in tears”. Not because of what was going on around them, or because of the release of tension, but rather because of a well-loved song by Israeli singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, “You and I will change the World”, which poured out poignantly from the speakers.
For a group of students who chose to express themselves in cheerful comic strip with an atmosphere of entertainment during one of the greatest war atrocities of our times, I can only hope the lyrics engrave the need for change and reinvention in their young minds. May those words continue to echo throughout that hall, travelling out onto the streets, so that the tears might stay in these future designers eyes long enough so that they are inspired to create a better future, for themselves and for their neighbours. And mostly I hope that they, the privileged, the saved, the sheltered, the protected, the educated, manage to reflect this in what they wear, to work like true designers and develop the ideal from the flawed, to progress, to be aware of the huge tasks and duties that await them, and then to embrace them. Because perhaps the only hope we have now is in our creation. We need to create it, design it, invent it, engineer it, envisage it and to feel it before we can believe it, and finally, live in it, comfortably, like a fabric or a second skin.
Reported by Liv Monaghan for Fashion Spyder
Note from the Editor
At Fashion Spyder we are actively supporting fashion designers from all over the world. We do not take political sides and we do not support Israel. We champion those who will stand for peace, harmony and free creative expression of the human spirit.