Bedouin Crucifixion by Ygael Tumarkin

Igael Tumarkin

Bedouin Crucifixion, 1982, Steel and mixed media, 211 x 206 x 80 cm, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem ; Gift of the artist, B82.0426, © Igael Tumarkin; Courtesy of The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

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Whose Crucifixion?

Commentary by
Read by Lydia Ayoade

In Bedouin Crucifixion, Igael Tumarkin (born 1933), an influential Israeli artist, demonstrated his empathy with Bedouins struggling against government-sponsored evictions and land confiscations.

There is no placard. Instead, we must discern who is ‘on the cross’ here through material objects with strong associations and resonances.

The hybrid cross Tumarkin constructed consists of horizontal wooden branches—used by the Bedouin, a traditionally nomadic people, as tent-poles—and an industrial iron vertical backdrop against which a soft assemblage of pieces of cloth and other organic materials is ‘crucified’. The rigid metal structure seems to symbolize the callous Israeli establishment that victimizes the poor and the helpless, in this case the Bedouins.

One of Tumarkin’s most important sources of artistic influence was the renowned Isenheim Altarpiece (1512–16) painted by Matthias Grünewald and asserting Christ’s radical solidarity with the victims of ergotism (a disease caused by infected rye).

In Bedouin Crucifixion, the spare wooden branches recall the emaciated arms of the Isenheim Christ and, along with the bowed tree-stump head, recreate something of the gaunt horror of Grünewald’s depiction. But here a different solidarity is asserted, and the title of the work itself does the job of Pilate’s placard.