She’s Gone: Israeli artist displays clothes of domestic violence victims at Prague exhibition

Dress of Simona Monyová

An art installation by Israeli artist Keren Goldstein Yehezkeli protesting against the global phenomenon of gender-based murder committed by spouses and other family members, is currently on display in the lower house of Czech Parliament. The main aim of the exhibition, called She’s Gone, is to raise awareness of femicide, which claims the lives of around 47, 000 women and girls around the world every year.

Keren Goldstein | Photo: She’s gone

Israeli artist Keren Goldstein Yehezkeli is reading the names of women who were murdered by their spouses and intimate partners.

The garments, once worn by the victims of domestic violence, are now on display in the lower house of Czech Parliament, as part of a chilling art installation called She’s Gone.

A green T-shirt, a pair of jeans, a long embroidered dress, a lucky sweatshirt, worn before every test, a top and a jacket, bought especially for a wedding.

Anat Elimelech | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament
Anat Elimelech | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament

These pieces of clothing all belonged to women of various ages and religious backgrounds, who came from different countries but shared the same tragic fate.

A small tag is attached to each garment, noting the name of the victim, date and instrument of the murder, and a court sentence, if there was one. In the background, there are voices of women singing lullabies in various languages, including Czech.

United Nations,  Palais des Nations,  Geneva,  Switzerland | Photo: She’s gone

The exhibition She’s Gone was launched in 2017 in Israel and has since grown into a global project, displayed all over the world, including the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

The installation in the Czech lower house of Parliament was organised by the Israeli Embassy in cooperation with the organisation Women for Women and will run until March 31.

I spoke to its author, Keren Goldstein Yehezkeli, during the official launch on Monday evening, and I first asked her how she got the idea to create the project:

“I would say it is actually my life’s mission. It was around six years ago, when I heard about the murder of yet another woman, and I felt really powerless and angry. I wanted to do something about it and I got this idea to look for the garments of gender-based violence victims. So this was the beginning of my journey: to look for those families and clothes and to create this exhibition or happening.”

What do you hope to achieve with this exhibition?

“So many things, but first of all, to touch people’s hearts, to capture their attention, to stop for one minute and to think about those women, think about how they can be helped and what people can do to prevent this phenomenon.”

As you said, you personally visited the families of the women whose dresses we can see today. How difficult was this for you?

“It was extremely sensitive. At first we searched for the families on the internet, because we had no contacts, no telephone numbers. And when I reached out to them, I first had to gain their trust.

“So I told them: please trust me, let me tell the story of your daughter or mother. Let me do what I can so that they are not forgotten. So this was the first step. But at the beginning I didn’t have a clue what I would do next…

Your personal mission, as you call it, started more than five years ago. Do you think you have succeeded in raising awareness of the problem?

“It will be a success when all over the world no women will be murdered only because they are women. Until then what I can do is touch people’s hearts and make them feel involved. This is the moment when the seeds are being planted. It might take a month, a year or ten years, something is planted in people’s hearts and it will promote action.”

The Israeli ambassador said in her opening speech that it is important that we hear men talk about the problem of femicide. How important is it for you to bring men into your project?

“I would like to call on men to become ambassadors to other men. To encourage them not to be ashamed or afraid and express themselves freely, without being afraid of being judged. Because a man, if he doesn’t have the words to express himself, will express himself with his fists. So this is a very important issue, in my opinion.”

Limor Rimok | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament
Limor Rimok | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament

An important part of the She’s Gone art installation is the accompanying programme consisting of guided tours and workshops, especially targeted at certain groups of the population, says Adi Nachman, a producer on the She’s Gone team:

“We are mainly interested in talking to high school students and people who work with teenagers who are coming to understanding their masculinity and gender. We are also talking to men who are looking for some sort of help with managing aggression.

“We actually think that everything starts with education. That if there is a way we could reach people at an age or at the point in their life when they are looking for some sort of an understanding of how to relate to women or how to relate to the other gender then we can actually implement the ideas of equality and nonviolent communication and respect.

“This is what we are trying to do. This is actually our mission to raise awareness and to educate the younger generation so that the problem would not prevail over time.”

Simona Monyová | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament
Simona Monyová | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament

Wherever she takes her exhibition, Keren Goldstein Yehezkeli invites the relatives of local victims to add their beloved one’s clothes. Among the dozens of garments exhibited in Prague is a long puprle gown that used to belong to Simona Monyová, Czechia’s best-selling author of women’s literature.

She published close to 30 books during her career, while raising three sons, the youngest of whom was only seven at the time of her death. She was murdered by her husband after having dissolved their joint publishing house and attempting to leave the marriage.

When I ask Keren Goldstein which of the many tragic stories she has collected over the years had the biggest impact on her, she says it is that of Alla Daher, an Israeli girl who studied medicine in Moldova.

Ala Daher | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament
Ala Daher | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament

She was murdered by her partner, who didn’t want her to pursue her studies, while she was on vacation in her home country. She is represented at the exhibition by a pair of jeans, her favourite hoodie and a colourful tote bag with pictures of babushka dolls.

“Actually it was the first garment we collected: the sweatshirt she would wear for every exam and the bag with drawings that look very childish.

“I remember we collected the garment from her family and I took it and I hid it at the back of my wardrobe and I couldn’t enter the room for two weeks.

“So because Alla was the first one, because she was so young and because she had her whole future before her, her story really touched my heart.”

Maria Tacsan | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament
Maria Tacsan | Photo: archive of Czech Parliament

Photo: archive of Czech Parliament