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Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women's Studies & Gender Issues 11.1 (2006) 224-235

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A Profile of Artist Michal (Miki) Kehati, Yemenite / Israeli Citizen of the World

Michal (Miki) Kehati's paintings, collages, and prints, with their dense layering of images and bold, frenetic designs, are born of a profound engagement with her Yemenite heritage, the rich artistic traditions of her forebears, and a thoroughly contemporary sensibility.

Coming from a traditional background where "the women were always cooking and talking in the kitchen and the men worked with tools and materials," she seems consciously to have chosen the "man's path."

"My family came to Israel from Yemen," says Kehati, "and we settled in and around Jerusalem, city of diversity—of population, of architecture, with so many periods and influences, and with its special perfume of antiquity, lying on the ancient spice road from orient to occident." Kehati was born and raised in Israel; the significance of that "we" lies in how her art mirrors that journey, with its upheavals of immigration and resettlement.

In addition to the influence of her grandparents and parents, who were craftspeople, artists, and, most importantly, independent thinkers, she credits the late Dan Zaif, the "brilliant, free-spirited, high school director and mentor" who first taught her art history, and the studio classes she took as a youth at the Israel Museum with encouraging her development as a serious artist.

Kehati speaks proudly of her late mother, Yona Kehati, an interior designer who was a commander in the army in the 1950s, when this was not common for women. After her own mandatory army service, Miki, disenchanted with Israeli politics of the early 1980s, left for New York. She attended the Art Students' League, waitressed, cleaned houses, and worked in art galleries. Over the course of three years, step by step, she put together a portfolio and finally achieved her goal of attending the prestigious School of Visual Arts. [End Page 224]

The stylistic influence of such prominent New York artists as Richard Serra, Jackie Windsor, Bryan Hunt, and Dennis Oppenheim might not be evident in her work, but Kehati says of them that their charisma and personality helped her shape her own distinctive artistic persona. After ten years in New York, she returned to Jerusalem "as one enriched and eager for new expression." The body of work she has been making since then displays a sophisticated and assured integration of her Yemenite/Israeli background with her chosen citizenship in the international art world.

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Figure 1
"Rumye in her house" (2006) Mixed media on paper, 8.5" × 11.52"

Of the smaller prints/collages, which are made up of autobiographical references, she says: "Each piece has a gold or silver leaf at its center, which helps it to have a visual focus; it gives the work another dimension and a shining light." These works resonate with the suspenseful stories of her grandparents' immigration, but also with the precariousness of the Jews' life in Yemen, which "had always been fraught with political and economic instability, as they journeyed from city to village and back again in search of their livelihood." [End Page 225]

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Figure 2
"Art and Leisure" (1995–1999) Mixed media and acrylic paint, gold leaf, varnish on canvas, 70" × 48" Collection of Norman Gershman, Aspen, Colorado

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Figure 3
"Co-existence" (1994) Mixed media and acrylic paint on canvas, 70" × 46"
[End Page 226]

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Figure 4
"Two Seated Women" (1995) Mixed media and acrylic paint on canvas, 59" × 78"

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Figure 5
"The Goddess" (1995) Mixed-media and acrylic paint on canvas, 72" × 54"
[End Page 227]

"My paternal grandmother, Rumye (Miriam), daughter of Yossef Ben Ya'ish Giat, was rebellious, willful, wise, free-thinking. She had been betrothed at the age of 12, but in Israel she realized she could be independent, her own mistress. Although Yemenite women of her age...


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