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'Saddest thing is it's exactly the same, all over the world'

‘Macho Man’ installation brings domestic violence to fore at Israel Festival

Spanish project offers chilling audiovisual experience adapted for local audience with rabbinical court rulings, account of alleged Cyprus gang-rape of Brit by Israelis

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Audience members reading material in one of 11 stations of 'Macho Man,' an audiovisual installation about domestic violence, part of the Israel Festival, taking place June 2021 (Courtesy Marti Artalejo)
Audience members reading material in one of 11 stations of 'Macho Man,' an audiovisual installation about domestic violence, part of the Israel Festival, taking place June 2021 (Courtesy Marti Artalejo)

This year’s Israel Festival doesn’t have many international performances, but one exception is the unsettling “Macho Man,” a documentary installation by Spanish artist Alex Rigola about violence against women.

In the installation, participants are led in groups of six, wearing headphones, through a maze of 11 stations set up in an indoor basketball gym in Jerusalem’s YMCA.

In this Israeli adaptation of the Spanish original, audience members are greeted by stories, documentation, imagery and some personal interactions as they make their way from station to station, gradually gaining an understanding of how society, educational and legal norms allow the evil of domestic violence to exist.

What shocked Rigola the most was how easily Israeli theater artist Maya Buenos was able to adapt the Spanish cases of domestic and sexual violence.

Audience members, who must be at least 15 years of age, are asked in one station of ‘Macho Man,’ the Spanish installation that’s part of the current Israel Festival taking place in June 2021, to look at other audience members and acknowledge the other (Courtesy Marti Artalejo)

“I was dismayed that Maya was able to find the exact same kinds of examples here in Israel,” he said. “The saddest thing is that it’s exactly the same, all over the world. We sometimes think that maybe it’s better somewhere else.”

Maya Buenos, the Israeli dramatist who adapted Spanish installation ‘Macho Man’ for the current Israel Festival, taking place in June 2021 (Courtesy Maya Buenos)

Buenos, a local theater artist appointed by Israel Festival director Eyal Sher to adapt Rigola’s work, traveled around Israel for her research, gathering information “that doesn’t exist in any easy way,” said Buenos.

She spoke at length to many Israeli victims of domestic and sexual violence. She is the sole person involved in the project who knows their identity, as only their voices are heard as they share their stories in several stations.

“There aren’t a lot of facts and figures out there,” said Buenos, who has been involved with other works about sexual violence.

Making sure the narrative was similar in cadence and feel to Rigola’s work was critical, she said.

And yet, some aspects of this Israeli version are different from the Spanish.

One of the stations includes pages printed with rulings in favor of men who had abused women. These rulings had been delivered by Israel’s rabbinical courts, which seemed strange to Rigola. But in Israel, rabbinical Jewish marriages can only be sanctioned by the rabbinical court, noted Buenos.

Another station gives the full, chilling account of a young British woman who said she was gang-raped by 12 young Israeli men while on holiday in Cyprus in 2019. The men were charged but later released and the young woman was accused of making a false allegation.

The Israel Festival version of “Macho Man,” in collaboration with WIZO and with the support of the Spanish embassy, is for audience members aged 15 and older.

Another station in ‘Macho Man,’ the Spanish installation about domestic violence recreated in Jerusalem’s Israel Festival, June 2021 (Courtesy Marti Artalejo)

“Macho Man” was seen by thousands when it was exhibited in cities around Spain in 2018, said Rigola.

“I needed to do this because there are so many domestic violence cases in Spain,” he said. “I would read about it every day and then forget about it, go on with my life.”

The pacing and sense of mystery in the installation were created by dramatists from Rigola’s Spanish theater group Heartbreak Hotel, purposefully designed to evoke an emotional response from the audience.

Alex Regola, the Spanish theater artist who created ‘Macho Man,’ an installation about domestic violence currently on display for the Israel Festival, June 2021 (Courtesy Alex Regola)

“We want to produce something in your mind, to touch you, so that when you leave the installation you think, ‘I have to do something about this,'” he said.

For Rigola, that has meant small but vital changes, such as not listening to jokes about women, or stopping conversations that include any kind of gender slander.

“The man who is a killer may be crazy, but the atmosphere we create is something we can all tackle,” he said. “It’s a global pandemic that we need to change. Education and education and education is the only way we have.”

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