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The Secret of the Body By Omri Herzog

Itzik's mother and grandmother bathe his naked body with a rough soap; they scrub his flesh and bless him. In one of the photos in the "Diwani" exhibition, the camera focuses on a close-up of their hands kneading and scrubbing the exposed flesh, and on Badash's face, which reflects a mixture of tension and expectation. Badash gazes into the camera in a silent plea, as if asking it to create a story for him that cannot be conveyed in words; to suspend the staged mystery of the text and to reconnect the contradictions that activate it: the contradiction between health and illness, words and body, secret and exposure, sin and redemption.

AIDS is a social ailment; its symptoms are biological, of course, but the essence of the disease as the body's continuous act in the world, exposed to the limited eye of convention, of looking away and of pointing an accusing finger is social. The illness, in the sense of being ill, encounters a web based on physical typology, connecting the physical visuality with powerful narratives of denial and of anxiety. And even though Badash's body is not skeletal, and no symptom of the illness can be seen on it, the gaze still carried layers of contamination, of danger and of staining. Something lurks within this physicality, which loses its natural accessibility, its erotic nakedness and the functionality of its limbs, when it is categorized under the headline of "the ill body". The body is ill not because it is disturbed, dirty or weak; it is ill because the headline that accompanies its presence declares its exceptionality. From the moment that the body becomes the object of a given story a prewritten story, usually comprised of sexual promiscuity and of a punishment that exiles the accused to the edges of society and convicts him for that promiscuity it becomes impossible to remove the eyes from the physicality, just as it is impossible to take the eyes off a documentation of an approaching disaster.

Badash is aware of the story that is projected onto his body, and which exposes it to a disciplined and stable cultural interpretation. He does not deny it: on the contrary, he addresses it. He reveals it and places it in a seductive scene: the seduction of voyeurism and of distant empathy, wrapped in real and metaphorical rubber gloves; the seduction of artistic interpretation, which heaps onto him the marks of rebirth from the womb of the bathtub, the Christian iconography of purification through the flesh or the forgiving composition of the Pieta. But all these cultural signs, which seek to distance the tangible presence of the body into a set of symbols that cooperate with everything that fears blood, flesh and pain, collapse into one moment that is completely private, demanding the viewer to suspend them for a minute. To suspend them in order to observe the pain that is marked on the body without looking away at orderly and consistent artistic interpretation, which will frame this body to the walls of the gallery. Badash's body seeks to turn our awareness to a different story a story that is not equipped with pre-given interpretation, and in which the traces of social decrees change their normative function.

"My grandmother is laundering me", he says in a taped interview that accompanied the photo shoot, and in the course of this interview his grandmother implores him to say "Amen" in order to remove the affliction of the marks of his foreignness, his loneliness and his guilt from his body. Badash hears and keeps silent. He does not say "Amen" to the narratives of atonement and redemption; he refuses the transformative power of the words, because he puts on display the static power of the visual physical presence, whose nakedness and fleshiness no word can hide. When the word encompasses the body but cannot activate it, fix it or hide it, it also relieves itself of the responsibility to provide it with meaning. The three-way encounter between the body, its origins (the mother, the grandmother) and the camera does not provide redemption or cleansing, i.e. acceptance of the illness or adaptation to the conditions of life and the stories that accompany it. On the contrary, the rough soap pains the skin; the central figures of the scene move continuously between artificial, non-spontaneous postures, failing to find their right place; the nakedness is constantly camouflaged and silenced. The attempt to neutralize the meaning of the sick body is gradually replaced with a different project: a project of potential for contact.

To what does this work of art pertain? Whose flesh does it scrub, stroke and scratch? Itzik Badash's identity is exposed when it defied the acts of marking. Badash is a stylist; he is occupied in his everyday life with the staging of aesthetics, style and glamour. He conceals flaws and enables his clients to wear masks, which expose the potential of beauty embedded in their facial features and in their body. In his work of art, he himself is transformed from an agent of designing the physical visibility into an object whose physicality is sketched by external elements: hands, soap, mother, camera, scripture chapters. But his function as an object is continuously disturbed by his awareness of the camera, of the composition of the photograph and of his own presence in it. Nothing is transparent in the way in which his physicality is revealed to the eye of the camera: within the photographed scene he exposes or hides his body, chooses photo angles and positions, offers advice, complies and defies the direction instructions. His body functions as an artistic object but at the same time as a subject that generates art.

The blurred boundaries between his being an agent of visibility and an object of physicality is added to other modes in which the body marks are stripped of their meaning: his "oriental" origin, marked by the color of his skin and by his accent, by the scripture chapters and by his grandmother's bilingual speech, is stripped of its stereotypical dimension as activating a libidinal and sexual body. Badash's body lies in the bathtub stripped of the erotic color of oriental sexuality; his is an adult and a childish body simultaneously, activated by its eroticism but at the same time hiding it: in white rags, by the very fact that he is subject to his mother's gaze and touch. Religious narratives both Jewish and Christian encompass him, but he refuses to cooperate with them. The restless oscillation between professional identities, religious faith, ethnic identity and the marks of masculine nudity enable him to point at a private and strictly coded physical system, the product of an intersection that cannot be fully generalized or marked. This stance is emphasized through our lack of knowledge whether the body that he presents is in fact ill; in the course of documenting the photographs, Badash says that he has recovered from the illness, but the issue of his status in relation to the medical distinctions (sick, carrier, healthy) remains unclear. His body does not disclose information to correspond with the demand of clinical marking.

Badash's body refuses to take on the obvious categorical distinctions, and act of scrubbing carried out by his mother and grandmother cleanses him of the body's cultural marks. They leave him as a signifier without a signified, a physical event on whose nudity no orderly narratives can be projected. His exposure creates a secret: the secret of the flesh, which does not recognize the colors of illness, faith or sexual identity. Thus, the performance art changes its nature: it addresses sin and redemption, but not the sin of the illness and the redemption of forgiveness. It refers to the sin of physical marking, the sin of the gaze that understands the body solely through marks that are external to it, which distinguishes between the healthy and the ill, the exposed and the hidden, black and white, gay and straight. And it addresses redemption that is the addressee audience's act of consent to the demand to strip: strip off preconceived assumptions, common narratives and habitual conditioning; shed off the tendency to regard the body as a dangerous and exceptional object and to dress it in the false clothes of cultural interpretation.

What remains of Itzik Badash's body? A naked body, embraced by the bodies that created it; a simple and intimate act of touch and intimacy. Physical feeling is always an event that seeks intimacy, since it has no verbal or visual language that can contain or explain it completely. This intimate ceremony is silenced in contemporary culture: it is carried out surreptitiously, out of sight, silenced by the economy of relations between a man and his loved ones, between a son and his mother, between patient and doctor; it is an economy based on rigid physical censure. Badash releases this intimacy into the exhibition space, and it seems that he aspires to touch his addressees: not their feelings or their mind, but their body. How rare is that intimate touch that is not mediated by this censure economy after all, every body that encounters another body enlists interpretation, the law, multitude of restrictions that dictate which body it is permitted to touch, in what manner and to what extent. Badash's Diwan becomes a seductive proposition, more dangerous than any contamination or illness, more liberating than any understanding or redemption: to enable the fingers to wrap around each other, to allow skin to touch skin, to liberate the body from the rules of the gaze, when it is close to another body.