Natural Worker is a new artist book by Leor Grady which unearths hidden histories through everyday objects and materials. Vacillating between his own identity and elements from 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, which tells the story of the Yemenites who settled 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 history’s being overshadowed and obscured in the Zionist narrative, despite their contribution, sacrifice and devotion.
Installed at one of the last remaining vestiges of The Kibbutz movement, canvases depicting The Kinneret and embroidered letters were leaned against the wall, like pietas. Letters embroidered in gold thread which convey 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 public’s reaction to the exhibition was visceral; this was one of the first times that the Yemeni history, recounted by one of their own, was reflected back at them in a context of contemporary art, removed from the shadows and shame which for years had surrounded Yemenite culture 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.