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Time of the Dunce

Moshe Kassirer is a painter of the Land of Israel. In his paintings Kassiner integrates different styles international movements like Impressionism, Symbolism, and Naïve and loads them with the essence of the Israeli landscape.

He corresponded with the Israeli painters of the 1930’s and 50’s such as Reuven Rubin, Moshe Castel, Nahum Guttmann and others.

The exhibition shows Kassirer’s works that relate to the relationship between man, earth and spirit, and the complex local-Jewish-Arab-Israeli connections.

His human figures are painted wearing the dunce hat (Kova temble), the very same pioneer hat that was popular during the foundation years of the country.

“My grandfather was a Zionist. He exchanged the European bowler hat for the blue dunce hat. He left his family behind in Europe and escaped at the last moment. In Israel he wore working clothes and a dunce hat. He moved from Judaism to Zionism. He worked hard in the hot August fields, ate meager rations but was a proud Israeli: he was building a country.

Nowadays, you cannot find a blue dunce hat (kova temble); not worn by people nor in shops. It is not fashionable any more: not the hat and not everything it symbolizes. “Today the trend is to visit Berlin. They say it is better there than in Israel” says Kassirer.

His figures mix the image of the biblical Jew to the pioneer Israeli like in the painting “Abraham” who holds in his hand the sacrificial lamb, the biblical victim versus, the pioneer Abraham with a dunce hat who has to sacrifice his life for the homeland.

In his self-portrait “The Lover“ too, Kassirer presents to his beloved a bunch of 6 anemones as the symbol of the 6 million exterminated during the Holocaust. The lover takes upon himself the role of the pioneer, responsible for the continuation and building of the Jewish people who survived the great destruction.

The sacrifice is also present in the painting “The Brothers” who try to hold on to each other when one of them is a little unstable on the ground and his twin is flying in the air. The grasp is almost impossible as one of the brother’s hands is amputated. The Galilee landscape of olive groves and the Arab village in the background somewhat reveal the political complexity we live in, this tie-tear of the local reality, this incomplete grasp in our everyday life.

In the painting “The Time to Plant and the Pen to Uproot what is planted”, the pioneer Jew plants or pulls out the tree sapling. He does not kneel down as if working the soil connects man to the earth, but remains as a distant bow from the soil, his feet on the path. He does not get “dirty” with mud but keeps a physical-emotional distance from that sapling whose roots are covered in a glowing halo that makes us, spectators, examine the mental connection of the pioneer to the earth that he “liberates”.

One might want to observe the figure of the pioneer Jew against the figure of the rooted Arab wandering among the olive trees, working and collecting, resting in his grove and sometimes also wears the dunce hat. This way the dunce hat acquires additional meanings and adds many layers of pioneering – Jewish-Arab-local and the link among them – The Land of Israel: the place, the soil and the pioneer spirit that is the source of inspiration for Moshe Kassirer with all its complexity and historical and political sensitivity.

In “The Dance”, inspired by a Henri Matisse painting, the artist adds to the dance the dancing group of pioneer figures wearing the dunce hat, schematic figures without any personal traits. In the background, the vivid colour red, maybe a reference to the socialist spirit that brought them here or maybe a dance on blood stained soil, saturated with wars and struggles on the one hand, but on the other hand also the heart beats of renewal, building and life.

The question left to be answered is the time of the dunce: is this time gone from the world? And if not yet, who nowadays wears the dunce hat?

Efrat Peled-Sade

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