As I began the process of
choosing from the many women who inspire me, those who I would paint for
LUMINOUS/women, Golda Meir was one of the first names on my list. In my
early twenties I had the opportunity to meet her, and missed doing so
because of a work commitment. I was determined, therefore, not to miss the
chance to engage with this powerful woman face-to-face, if only via
photographs. Easy enough, one would think, to find a photo of one of the
first women Prime Ministers this world has known. But photo after photo
proved unsuitable. There were seldom close ups, and those that were had
Golda looking at another party in the photo or off camera, leaving me no
access to those strong and determined eyes.
After some time I found a children’s book that had an abstracted photo of
Israel’s Prime Minister on its cover. If I could get to the original
source of the book cover’s image it would be a perfect photo from which to
work. Even though the book was long out of print I contacted its
publisher, hoping they would have the original photo. When that failed, I
sought assistance from the Israeli consulate, their cultural affairs
office and government websites, as well as Google Images. All to no avail.
Frustrated and distressed, I asked my local library to order any book they
could find on Golda. After weeks with no success, I made one final stop at
the library on a rainy Friday evening on the way home from a yoga class.
And there it was! Not what I was looking for, but an interesting photo
from 1906 of Golda as a young girl. What I couldn’t miss in the face of
that young girl was the strength of character that I saw in the eyes of
one of Israel’s founders.
She sat in a pleated dress of no determinate color, the photo black &
white. In her hands was a small flowerpot, which the caption said was a
common prop in Kiev at the turn of the century.
To take the viewer into the future with this small girl my creative
process sought to present a metaphor. Instead of depicting Golda holding
some Russian blossom as shown in the photograph, the flower pot in the
portrait evolved to contain a prickly pear cactus, which is so associated
with Israel that they refer to it as a Sabra…meaning one who is born in
I turned myself over to her image, spurred on by the quote that she spoke
to Anwar Saddat before their peace talks, which I planned to collage into
the painting in Hebrew and English. A quote which gave me goose bumps each
time I read it, even more so when juxtaposed to the girl in the pleated
dress: “We can forgive you for killing our sons, but we will never forgive
you for making us kill yours.”
Golda Meir may have been born in Russia, and raised in Milwaukee, but she
was one of those strong and determined individuals who birthed the modern
state of Israel…and a luminous woman as well.