‘Israeli Women’s Day:’ University of Haifa launches innovative art installation

The installation, “Faces and Words,” aims to fill the void left by the international community, which largely failed to condemn the sexual violence Hamas perpetrated against Israeli women on Oct. 7 and in its ongoing holding of hostages.

The art installation, Faces and Words, was created to encapsulate the stories and feelings of women in the University of Haifa community. Credit: Roei Hermoni and Sergey Levdinksy.
The art installation, Faces and Words, was created to encapsulate the stories and feelings of women in the University of Haifa community. Credit: Roei Hermoni and Sergey Levdinksy.

To commemorate victims of the Hamas massacre, the University of Haifa unveiled an interactive art exhibit that highlights students and faculty sharing their stories from Oct. 7 and the ensuing Israel-Hamas war. 

March 8, 2024 is International Women’s Day, an annual opportunity to pay tribute to the achievements and challenges that women experience around the world. This year, though, is not like any other. On Oct. 7—now known as Black Saturday—the lives of all Israeli women and men changed abruptly. Among other atrocities, terrible sexual violence took place on this day, which the remaining kidnapped women are still exposed to. Israel has experienced severe disappointment at the lack of solidarity from women’s rights organizations around the world, anger at the disregard of pre-attack warnings voiced by Israeli women, and the exclusion of Israeli women from decision-making bodies. Israel has also marveled at the heroism, determination and strength of these women during Black Saturday, in combat, in captivity, and at the various volunteering sites throughout Israel. 

Against this backdrop, University of Haifa, a leader in promoting gender equity, decided to mark “Israeli Women’s Day” this year. This initiative included launching an artistic installation, combining the faces and words of dozens of women from the university’s community—members of its academic and administrative staff, and students.

The installation, titled “Faces and Words,” aims to fill the void left by the international community, which largely failed to condemn the sexual violence Hamas perpetrated against Israeli women on Oct. 7 and in its ongoing holding of hostages. The project is a collaboration with the University’s Gender Equity Department and the University’s Hecht Museum.

“In many ways, Israeli women from all around the world see March 8 not as International Women’s Day, but Israeli Women’s Day. For many of us in Israel, Oct. 7 was a day when time stood still,” said professor Shulamit Almog, a professor of law at University of Haifa and presidential advisor on gender equity. “The lives of all of us, men and women, will never be the same. In addition to the many atrocities that took place that day, we know that those who are still captive in Gaza are still being subjected to untold horrors and sexual violence. Instead of condemning this violence, though, women’s organizations across the world stayed silent and ignored our pleas and warnings and excluded us from decision making bodies as a result.”

This artistic project, Almog explained, is a productive response to this disappointment, in which the University has given a platform to highlight the displays of bravery, determination, resilience and strength Israeli women have shown on Oct. 7 and thereafter. 

The art installation—a massive three-by-eight meter canvas that will hang on the exterior wall of the University’s Hecht Museum—encapsulates the stories of the thousands of Israeli women who are grieving because someone they love was killed, raped, and/or captured, sacrificed their time to volunteer, enlisted in reserves, or raised their voice in order to make the public aware of what occurred. 

The project will also have an interactive component by providing a QR code for participants to scan in order to view interviews from some of the women featured in the project. The art installation, meanwhile, is a black-and-white collage of the many faces of the university, and in between them is an outline of a human heart, containing powerful words from the interviews. Their stories run the gamut from a woman whose nephew was killed to another who shared that she spent the entire day of Oct. 7 unable to get out of bed, but then, the very next day, mustered the strength and courage to volunteer and give back to her country. 

“The piece gives a platform for every woman to tell her story—whether it be a story of grief, trauma or hope. As a professor of one of the leading institutions in Israel when it comes to women’s rights, I’m proud to be part of this project that shows how women can create together and unapologetically show their grief alongside their strength and desire to change the world for the better,” Almog said. 

Dr. Naama Klorman-Eraqi of the department of art history, who participated in creating the concept of the project, added, “This is a project that represents the diverse mosaic that is the University of Haifa community. This is a window as to how Oct. 7 affected the women on our campus in the most intimate way possible. While each woman was photographed separately, all of their images have come together in a powerful collage showing how each of our individual stories can come together as one collective whole. Each woman experienced something unique, but they’re all part of the fabric of the university.”

On Thursday, the art installation will be exposed to the general public at a ceremony at which say the names before the titles university rector and president-elect, professor Gur Alroey; vice president and dean of research and development, professor Mouna Maroun; director of the Hecht Museum, Dr. Inbal Rivlin; Dr. Lidor Shaar-Moshe of the department of evolutionary and environmental biology; Klorman-Eraqi and professor Shulamit Almog, a longtime advocate for women’s rights, will all deliver remarks. 

The art project is only one of the many initiatives spearheaded by the University in honor of Women’s Month. The Gender Equity Unit together with the Forum of Law, Gender and Policy will also hold its second annual conference on gender equity in academia. The Gender Equity Unit also released a training video on how to incorporate gender-neutral language in academia. 

At the university, women outnumber men at every degree level within the student body. Additionally, 45% of the university’s faculty members are women, exceeding most other major higher education institutions in Israel. Among the university’s 787 junior faculty members, 60% are women.

“University of Haifa is proud to be a leader among Israeli higher education institutions in paving a path forward to achieving gender equality for both students and faculty,” said Naomi Reinharz, CEO of American Society of the University of Haifa. “These courageous women are an inspiration to us all, as they use their voices to stand up to injustice and refuse to be silenced or sidelined. The entire university community stands side-by-side with each one of them.” 

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