In an attempt to restrain the natural human tendency and prevent people from abusing their power, modern democracies have formulated several basic principles to promote equality and reduce social injustice — including the separation of powers, majority rule (not at the expense of minority rights), freedom of the press, and so on. Today, it seems that these core values are being tested.
The exhibition “Citizens” was conceived in response to social inclinations currently challenging civil society in Israel and in other democracies in the free world. In view of the instability felt throughout the world, questions arise regarding the strength of present-day democracy and its ability to face cultural transformations and political upheavals. A stormy change of government in the USA, the rise of extremist regimes in the Middle East, the migration of millions who flee violence and destruction in their homelands — all these only reinforce the fear, uncertainty, and threat, further complicating the already complex democratic way of life.
The exhibition spans works by artists from Israel, USA, Spain, Italy, Canada, and Poland. These are read in the light of theories which already warned against the slippery slope from liberalism to totalitarianism in the 1950s. The participating artists ask questions about the innate tension between citizen’s rights and government authorities, shedding light on their points of collision. Through their works, the show explores the conflict between the state’s duty to protect itself and its citizens, and its counter duty to safeguard basic human rights, such as the freedom of association, the right to privacy, and the freedom of expression.
The exhibition features current reflections — at times critical, at others humorous — on notions such as totalitarian democracy, which embody the “paradox of freedom,” or the assumption that the realization of freedom entails the employment of coercive means and violence. Some of the featured works are centered on the Panopticon — the surveillance apparatus conceived by 18th century philosopher, Jeremy Bentham — and on Foucault’s interpretation of that concept, as a model for the anonymity of power in modern society and as an image of the individual’s internalization of the disciplining and signifying gaze.