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Workers at the construction site of the concrete wall built to separate the eastern Jerusalem village of A-Tur from Jerusalem.
Photo: Ahikam Seri, 2003.

Uri Dagan and Ma’ayan Smoler: Women Crossing Borders

By students at the Visual Communications Department of the Bezalel Academy of Arts, Jerusalem

In one course on advertising and ideology, they were set a task proposed by comme-il-faux, a feminist fashion company, to create their summer campaign on the theme of borders in women’s lives.

In the middle of the course Uri was sent to prison for refusing to serve in the territories and spent 24 days among walls. They continued to talk on the phone with Ma’ayan about a possible project for the course, and after she was taken to the wall in Abu Dis by a photographer friend, she suggested that they do a fashion show there. They asked for the clothes from the company and shot the three-minute promo. Uri’s goal was to make a cynical statement on the wall, without being over-dramatic, to capture the contrast between the clothes, the wall and the fashion smile, especially as comme-il-faux is a very exclusive and expensive shop. He never thought about the actual possibility of using it as advertising (school is precisely the place where they can do whatever they want, scream and push the boundaries).

However, at the presentation the company managers came and decided to turn their concept into their summer catalogue, of course, altering it in the process.

The feedback Uri and Ma’ayan received in the school was very positive, but after the advertising preparation started rolling there was a lot of tension: people ‘on the right’ accused them of ‘working with the Arabs,’ of ‘working with the Palestinian Authority by showing the wall’. People ‘on the left’ were disgusted with mixing fashion-show with politics, with ‘exploiting the issue to sell an expensive product’. What would you do next, they said, shoot a fashion-show next to an exploded bus? How low can you get?

There was big media hype on the day of the shooting at the wall, both local and international media came. Passers-by were interviewed, children on the site were asked to pose, and self-reflexive documentary shots of the event taken.

Although deeply controversial, according to Uri, in the light of the almost total absence of discussions about the wall in the Israeli media and their general resistance to the topic, it was still a brave move on the part of comme-il-faux to turn his concept into their summer catalogue. In fact, when reporters from the Israeli Channel 2 came for the fashion-shooting day to Abu Dis, they decided to make a larger coverage of the issue, interviewing a man who was separated from his family, shouting to relatives over the fence. When the coverage was aired on the news in the evening, only a small part of the longer report was on the fashion-show and the rest was devoted to the wall itself. That report would have never been made without the fashion event. As fashion advertising is always escapist, an ad that, in contrast, brings the hardest part of the reality into the picture pushes society to confront the issue and not continue ignoring it.

From an advertising point of view, however, not all aspects were beneficial. Although people remember the campaign and the label, comme-il-faux received letters chastising them and vowing to never buy their clothes.

Stills from Uri Dagan and Ma’ayan Smoler: Women Crossing Borders
A comme-il-faux Exercise, 2004.