‘Aphrodite is Searching for a Dress’ in Bat Yam

An unusual fashion show with a sea mythology theme seeks to raise awareness and funds for ALUT autism advocacy group in Israel.

Through the eyes of industrial designer Tali Huldai, the seaside Riviera Gallery in Bat Yam, Israel, resembles “an artifact washed up in the waves” of the Mediterranean.

An abandoned nightclub until two years ago, the revived Riviera is now part of a new artists’ colony on the beach of this Tel Aviv suburb.

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“The place itself is kind of a story of the sea, the place and people,” says Huldai, who is involved in public project management.

So she chose the Riviera as the venue for “Aphrodite is Searching for a Dress,” a special exhibition geared to improving access to public art.

Huldai gave a life-size mannequin to each of 24 designers and asked them to create a two-dimensional costume inspired by sea mythologies – anything from the biblical narrative of Jonah (who was swallowed by a great fish) to Far East fables of superhuman sea heroes.

“Mythological stories relate perfectly, as they tell a story about people and sea, endless beauty and aesthetics,” Huldai tells ISRAEL21c. “The result is 24 characters, each one reflecting a modern approach to an old legendary story, combined with messages for our time.”

To give the event added purpose, she arranged with the artists and the municipality for all proceeds from sales of the mannequins to benefit ALUT, the Israeli Society for Autistic Children.

This mannequin was designed by Adi Schwartz, an artist with autism. Photo by Daria Frost
This mannequin was designed by Adi Schwartz, an artist with autism. Photo by Daria Frost

Through her partnership with ALUT, she learned about Adi Schwartz, a non-verbal, autistic and artistically gifted resident of a group “Home for Life” that provides him with a daily art tutor. Schwartz became the 24th designer in the project.

“Adi is a total artist, bringing great precision and devotion to the task of showing his very different inner world,” says Huldai. “Through his unique aesthetics, he finds a way to express his feelings and communicate with the environment.”

The free public exhibition runs from June 11 to July 7, and the grand opening was attended by Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lachiani as well as ALUT CEO Einat Cassuto-Shafi.

Huldai says she is exploring possibility of replicating the exhibit elsewhere in Israel and even abroad.

Multiple messages

Huldai, a graduate of Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, endeavored to include a mix of well-known and up-and-coming talent.

Anat Mortkovich’s creation.
Gin Lee with her creation.

She wanted to provide a platform for publicizing their works, as well as the Riviera Gallery and ALUT – which provides educational, residential, vocational and leisure-time services to Israelis with autism and advocates for improved services available to them and their families.

“This exhibit had multiple messages at both the artistic and community level,” says Huldai.

Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty and love, was conceived in the sea foam (“aphros,” in Greek), according to the ancient story. Huldai therefore decided that Aphrodite would be the perfect symbol for a show centered on mythology associated with the sea as reflected in the works of the designers.

Anat Mortkovich’s creation.
Anat Mortkovich’s creation.

“Aphrodite is a metaphor for the connection between art and contemporary fashion, between reality and imagination,” says Huldai.

Participating designers were encouraged to create “a new modern wardrobe that reflects aesthetic beauty and femininity, along with an entertaining touch.”

Among the better-known artists included in exhibition were Tel Aviv-based illustrator and graphic designer Lena Revenko; and Lee Shein, who specializes in wearable art and has worked on high-profile projects such as the new film “Wonder” from Shaanan Streett and Avi Nesher, and TLV Fashion Week with designer Sasson Kedem.

The young, promising talent included such names as former Israel Project Runway contestant Yoav Meir; and Gin Lee, a Singapore-born designer who recently launched her own label in Israel.

Some of the colorful characters that inspired participants were the Greek god Cupid, the Japanese goddess of fishermen Ebisu and the Norse god Aegir. Lee used a delicate web of blue threads and lines to evoke the tragic Chinese sea goddess Mazu (also called Mat-Su), who tried to save her earthly brother from drowning in a typhoon by weaving a magical tapestry on her loom.

According to ALUT, four of the mannequins were spoken for by buyers already on opening night. The price per unit is a secret, but it can be assumed that if all 24 mannequins are sold the organization will add thousands of shekels to its coffers.

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About Abigail Klein Leichman

Abigail Klein Leichman is a writer and associate editor at ISRAEL21c. Prior to moving to Israel in 2007, she was a specialty writer and copy editor at a daily newspaper in New Jersey and has freelanced for a variety of newspapers and periodicals since 1984.