Natural Worker is a new artist book by Leor Grady which unearths hidden histories through words, images, and installations. Vacillating between his own persona, and his Yemeni heritage, the project situates Grady’s multi-disciplinary practice as an investigation of how marginalized groups deploy myths, rites, and rituals to transmit heritage and identity trans-generationally.
The book builds upon The Natural Worker exhibition which opened at The Kibbutz Gallery in 2017, where the Grady tells us the story of the Yemenites who settled at Lake Kinneret between 1918-1930. The Yemeni’s water was repeatedly cut off by neighboring Jewish Settlements, and they were eventually forcibly resettled by The Jewish Agency to peripheral towns. Their historic exclusion from mainstream Israeli society, alongside The Yemeni kidnapping affair, and other historical episodes, resulted in their story being overshadowed and obscured in the Zionist narrative, despite their contribution, sacrifice and devotion.
Installed at one of the last remaining vestiges of Ashkenazi dominance, his canvases were leaned against the wall, like pietas, or tombstones, featuring Letters embroidered in gold thread which re-inscribed heartbreaking pleas for mercy at the hands of the movement’s Ashkenazi overlords, alongside images of the lake as a bleeding heart, or wound, which gushes from the canvas. The various threaded texts present an early, poetic and rich Hebrew that sheds light on the times from their point of view. The public’s reaction was visceral, for this was one of the first times that the hidden experience of marginalization was reflected back at them, removed from the shadows and shame which for years had surrounded Yemeni experience in Israel.
The book features a new theoretical text by Sivan Rajuan Shtang titled ‘Strange Bouquets’, which interprets the works, and grounds them within theoretical and political discourses related to Post-Zionism and queer theory. The text exposes how Grady’s use off everyday quotidian materials – like dishrags, headscarves, olive oil – reclaims the beauty, sophistication, and intimacy of an oft maligned heritage. His photographs of floral bouquets made up of plants and and herbs derived from Yemeni culture and tradition, urges us to consider the absent bodies – of the women who for centuries have worked with these herbs – and who have been largely overlooked by Zionist visual culture. ‘Ofra Dana’ presents a silent two channel video off installation of Ofra Haza and Dana International, two Yemeni icons of Israeli popular music; the silence focuses the gaze on the shared gestures in the two singers body language, pointing out to us how ‘threatening’ narratives elude censorship through the most subtle of gestures.