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Gila Stein: Content Amidst Absence

Photography @Aya Buzaglou

Exhibition overview:

The multi-disciplinary artist Gila Stein first faced breast cancer in 1995. During the following three decades, it has recurred four times. Coping with cancer forced Gila to undergo surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. After the fourth recurrence, she decided to remove both breasts and forgo reconstruction, thus putting an end to the saga of the battle against cancer. Since then, she has devoted her creativity to processing and coping with the changed form of the feminine body.


Content Amidst Absence exhibition is Stein's first attempt to deal with the illness, the mastectomy, and the healing in a bold and public artistic manner. Through displaying her naked and scarred body, Stein wishes to touch on and address social, genderial, and emotional issues that are personal as well as universal.

The idea for the exhibition was planted in Stein’s heart the moment the surgeon suggested breast reconstruction to “preserve her femininity.” The insinuation ignited in Stein’s mind an internal debate concerning the meaning of femininity, the completeness of the body, and the physiological and erotic role of breasts in women’s life cycle: a maternal, nourishing organ that is also a pleasuring, aesthetic, and attraction-creating organ, that may bring about sickness and life endangerment. Stein decided to reconcile with the incompleteness of[HG1] [HG2]  her body, needing to reconstruct nothing. Quite the opposite – the joy over removing the perilous tissue led her to embark on a search for a feminine essence that is both subtle and powerful, one that does not depend on a specific body image, an organ, or age.


The exhibition includes three bodies of work in diverse mediums.


The first segment includes a series of female body fragments sculpted in a mixed technique. Through them, Gila examined the healing process by throwing away what is considered redundant or harmful, emphasizing the transformative nature of recovery.


In the second segment, Stein introduces a series of staged photographs by Aya Bozaglo, capturing diverse aspects of Stein’s femininity in intimate and performative scenes. In the photos, the artist uses her body to relay a myriad of emotions, from tenderness and power to grieving and hope. The artist’s body meets varied materials and textures in these photographs, encounters that create tiers of connotation  and symbolism: soft and feminine clothing items such as furs, gauze, flowers, and stone. Those both amplify the gendered aspects the artist scrutinizes and yield to the sensual encounter with the photographs.


The third and last segment includes a series of tar prints, each representing a body image that echoes the artist’s internal dialog concerning her journey. Through the prints, Stein inserts forceful and incisive qualities into her work, inviting the viewers to address her narrative on a sensual level.


Taken together, her works create an emotional experience that transcends the individual experience, inviting rethinking about femininity, resilience, distress, and sickness. Through processing, revealing, and moving from the concrete to the symbolic space, Stein exposes the depth and complexity of her voyage, and so she empowers others.

Dates: May 4 - 24, 2024

Venue: Tel Aviv Artists House

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