- Transnational Identities: Women, Art and Migration in Contemporary Israel by Tal Dekel
In Transnational Identities: Women, Art and Migration in Contemporary Israel, Tal Dekel explores the multifaceted and multicultural identities of women artists who, for various reasons (discussed in the book), migrated to Israel either as young teenagers or as young women. Dekel focuses on three specific populations: women immigrants from the former Soviet Union (FSU), women immigrants from Ethiopia, and women migrant workers from the Philippines. Apart from the latter, they belong to a specific age group, referred to as the 1.5 generation—immigrants who arrived in the destination country between early childhood and late adolescence. In this case, it refers primarily to women from the FSU and Ethiopia who are today in their 30s and 40s and arrived in Israel in the early 1990s. Dekel explains her choice to focus on this generation as related to the unique experiences these women embody, as a liminal group that neither grew up in their country of origin nor were born in their new host country. She analyzes their works and experiences using a field-based methodology, including interviews and correspondence with the artists as well as a visual analysis of their works, integrated with a sociopolitical feminist analysis.
This fascinating endeavor adds depth to the study of immigrants by focusing specifically on the intersections between migration experiences, gender issues and art expression. Dekel gives voice to these women artists, who selected for her the works they viewed as most significant and described their creative processes, the messages they wish to convey and their personal stories, as these relate to their immigration experiences. The artists' perspectives are combined with Dekel's own socially and culturally contextualized examination of the visual messages arising from specific works, accompanied by color images of them. This examination is based on a qualitative feminist research method, integrating different streams of knowledge and reflexive examination. Dekel applies Ephrat Huss's approach to art-based research, which puts the artist's own explanation at the center of understanding their artwork.1 In addition to this blended visual-verbal analysis, Dekel adds important background [End Page 199] information about historical and sociopolitical phenomena relating to the artists' personal migration stories and their artworks, while also connecting it to relevant feminist theory. She thus encourages a rich and multilayered understanding of the women's individual and collective migration experiences.
The result is a colorful, thought-provoking account of the complex and intense migration experiences that the women embody and their consequent multilayered, transnational identities, as they are sensitively conveyed in different forms of art expression, such as photography, video installations, paintings and sculptures. Dekel uses the term the age of transnationalism to refer to the specific phenomenon, embedded in a specific period of time, that led to the migration of the artists chosen to appear in the book and influenced their experiences. She describes it as emerging around the time of the collapse of the communist Soviet Union, explaining: "Because many actual borders have changed or disappeared since the 1990s, migration laws have also been altered, so that the movement from one country to another is now considered easier than ever before, although voluntary and forced migrants are facing new challenges and obstructions on their path" (p. 5).
In this context, the transnational identities of the women artists described in the book relate to the influence on their lives of historical events and geopolitical changes, such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the change of regimes in Ethiopia in the 1980s and 1990s. However, these identities are also linked to a larger-scale transnational discourse of bidirectional influences between global processes, nation states (and their national borders) and individuals. Linked to more than one geopolitical space, immigrants influence both their country of origin and their host country. These influences, in turn, inform the notion of hybridity—a theoretical conceptualization of communities and individuals who develop a fused, multior bicultural identity that combines elements from their countries of origin and their host countries...