I first met Eyal Assulin when he collaborated with me on a runway show during New York Fashion Week. He designed a crinoline constructed of elements found in the Negev desert. This golden structural centerpiece was combined with an embroidered caftan by the Bedouin tribal women of Israel’s desert. It was all orchestrated by Aviad Arik Herman, famed costume designer of Miss Universe. Needless to say, it was an impactful, emotional, and magnificent presentation to bring attention to Israeli artistry with a focused intent on the Negev region. Assulin is one of Israel’s leading sculptors with highly acclaimed exhibits all over the world. Currently he has multiple shows at the Haifa Museum of Art.
Assulin (born 1981) lives and works in Ofakim, his childhood town. He graduated from the art department at the highly acclaimed Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem. He then earned his master’s from the Advanced Studies Program at Bezalel. Assulin won the Young Artist prize in 2014 and the Artist in the Community Award for 2010-2014 (the only artist who won it for four consecutive years) for his work with local communities in Ofakim and the Bedouin city Rahat.
For the past seven years, Assulin has done extraordinary community work by initiating special art projects in the Negev, which is where I was introduced to him. He is a lecturer at Sapir College School of Art and Kaye College. Eyal is the creator of the social pilot programs “Creative Place Making & Augmented Reality” in Ofakim and Sderot. All these are supported by the Negev coalition and Ness foundation.
His works are reflections of modern society. They speak of current social issues with great reference to past cultural stereotypes mixed with biblical resources, always presenting very large statements with very large visuals. From interpretations of ultra-luxury automobiles to distorted construction equipment, Assulin plays with your eyes in scale and detail.
The current exhibition “Majesty” introduces a display of “Majestic Escorts” spun out of symbols of ancient Egypt and current Israeli issues. This work collection displays seemingly all male-dominated icons that define masculinity in terms of power, success, and control. Since I have not been to Israel to see his two new shows, I sent him a series of questions to answer in order to get a better sense of his overall message.
My questions to Assulin reflected my observation of the new “idol worship” of luxury and social media that results in distancing ourselves from Hashem. The interchange was met with brave and raw answers. Assulin stated: “Excess luxury is not the cause of distance from faith; excess luxury is only a byproduct of consumer culture, pop culture, and culture of false wellness. We live in an era of networking and social networks. The absolute truth that was in the past has been replaced in contemporary times by the multiplicity of different truths and connotations that create various virtual and physical realities in contemporary society.” And he continues further: “Everything that glitters is gold! It must be… I will explain this point. We see social networking figures on Instagram and Facebook who appear to be very happy and abundant. The truth is that these people are very busy demonstrating the good life instead of actually living it. I think that G-d is in every one of us, but contemporary culture attacks us as people and society and fills us with shells, wrappers, and filters.”
Assulin and his works are artistic comments on our own yetzer hara (evil inclination). The pagan ideals of idol worship and multiple G-ds have been modernized with Insta pages, Facebook posts, and an excessive drive for luxury.
Indeed, Assulin has hit a very sensitive nerve in modern-day Judaism. Are we worshipping at the altars of false gods? Are we disobeying one of the first Ten Commandments given to us at Mt. Sinai? Weren’t we all there to witness the basic instructions of our faith?
Yes, I am therefore partially guilty! For I have both a Facebook and Instagram page. I even have a live Facebook show called JWOMEN every Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. Perhaps Eyal Assulin’s installations challenge us to reckon with the idols of the present and the past within our own lives. This week we witnessed how the power of social media influencers challenged valid kosher certifications by means of Orthodox women using virtual platforms to assert influence on Halachah (Jewish law). How do we harness these new forces of influence for the betterment of Hashem and the principles of Judaism? The week’s episode of “comedians vs. kosher” further pushes us to engage in dialogue that enables Torah to utilize it all for the betterment and continuation of Hashem’s purpose for our lives.
If we choose to take advantage of these new abilities to focus on our yetzer tov (good inclination) and eradicate our yetzer hara (evil inclination) then we will have altered the perception of idol worship.
Let’s become “followers” of the artist’s message, “We are all burdened with filters that are hard for us to see our own truth. The truth is G-d dwells within each of us.”
Eyal Assulin’s “Majesty” runs through February 2, 2019, at the Haifa Museum of Art in Haifa, Israel.
Tobi Rubinstein is a retired fashion and marketing executive of 35 years who currently produces runway and lifestyle events for NYFW, specializing in Israel’s leading artists and designers. She is the founder of The House of Faith N Fashion, fusing culture and Torah. Tobi was a fashion collaboration and guest expert for ABC, Geraldo Rivera, Huffington Post, Lifetime, NBC, Bravo, and Arise. She hosted her own radio and reality TV series. Tobi is a mother, wife, dog owner, and shoe lover.