Sea of Tears
Text by Tali Tamir — 2016
Khen Shish's Tunisian Bride, much like the bride in the well-known play by Nissim Aloni, joins an age-old array of brides who have dressed in their most elegant wedding gowns and as their veil fluttered above them, they fled from the altar to the mythical world of the archetypical bride. This bride, whose groom has never presented himself at her altar (and not the one who ran from her groom in Lorca's "Blood Wedding") – is somewhat of a tricky creature: abandoned and miserable on the one hand, yet at the same time – powerful, independent, and free.
The Tunisian Bride starring in Khen Shish's pink-black-golden painting, representing herself, is washed away by an ocean of tears; up in flames like a martyr, while simultaneously she grows to monumental dimensions, bedecked as befit to a Byzantine queen, she sprouts scorpion's pincers or peacock's wings. Khen rejects gracefulness: her image of the bride has become a ritual hybrid of man/animal, bride/bird of prey, pecking (perhaps) at her groom's liver. The primary pink space of her paintings, saccharine and flowing with hearts, is covered up by a rain of black tears and a flock of sharp-beaked eagles.
The tears receive quite a dramatic empowerment: if in Picasso's "The Weeping Woman" (1937) the tears are enlarged and have a crystal-like presence, in Shish's case, the tears are thick cardboard cutouts glued onto the scenic fabric, gaining a tangible, three-dimensional presence. "An ocean of tears in my two eyes / my heart calls out return to me" – Zohar Argov, the king of Middle Eastern song, sings dramatically to the words of Zmira Chen.
In her previous exhibition, Khen Shish's art spoke of a broken heart calling out for its disappeared lover to return. In the current exhibition, the heart is presented in place of the head, and the tears join in a Bacchanal circle dance. Is the Middle Eastern characteristic of Khen Shish – "The Tunisian" – not looking at the emotional dramatization with the eyes of irony? Maybe even with humor and an implied wink? Perhaps not the tears, but rather the black eyes of the bride/painter, similar to the darkened eyes of the Middle Eastern girls painted by Gutman and Rubin in the twenties – are the key to the charcoal morbidity of these paintings.
During the time spent working on the "Tunisian Bride" series, Khen Shish consciously corresponded with the Moroccan bride appearing in Eugene Delacroix's "Jewish Wedding", painted in 1839. The Moroccan wedding did in fact take place in the city of Tangier, in Morocco, on the February 21st, 1832, and the Parisian painter, charmed by the veiled East revealed to him, documents in his journal in precise detail the shadows, the whiteness of the sleeves, the darkness of the eyes, the beauty of the bride's face, the purple and gold tones of the fabrics, and finally the sunlight lighting falling on the wall. Not a word about the groom. Same is the case in Breughel's Wedding Party, where the groom is left out of the frame. Only in Rembrandt's "Jewish Bride" does the groom appear beside his bride as he gently places his hand on hers… In Kafka's work we find the groom "standing alone, leaning on the door, looking outside", while the bride "stood amidst friends and acquaintances" at the peak of the engagement celebration held "on a nice warm evening in the month of June". Kafka himself, an "insubordinate groom", will always find a way out of marital life, will eventually roll into the body of an insect and will play the role of the inner horror of rejection and incompatibility, compensated by the freedom of creation.
Dizzied by the whirling sensation of creation, Khen Shish's Tunisian Bride stands tall and beautifully black eyed, as she rises up in her own flames into the space of painting and imagination. A flock of ravens flutters around her, and the groom disappears in a cloud of smoke.