ISRAEL: Zeev Engelmayer – Transformation into a Super Heroine – Becoming Shoshke

Before I do these interviews I try to make some research but as well I don’t want to read too much. Each person will tell his or hers story anyway. It can be an obstacle if you have too much pre-information because you start guiding that way and maybe miss the most interesting parts. The dynamic has to develop in a conversation by itself. So at first I thought I was going to talk just to a painter and art activist from Israel. Which was true and he is. But after a while speaking to him and getting into the stories, I really started to understand what this fantastic person is actually doing around him and for the people there. Or rather how his psyche has developed in an incredible way, and now two characters are actively on the move within one person. And not just any new character in addition to the own one. Instead his self-designed, crazy but loving and energetic superheroine Shoshke, whom he has drawn for years as an illustrator, has taken part of him but in a good way. And for four years, he’s been turning into her every now and then.

Zeev Engelmeyer was born in 1963 in Kiryat Ono and grew up in the Kiron. He won several prizes, created fantastic artworks and he will tell in the interview much more about that. As well how he got the big sculpture of the gefilte fish on the roof of the national poet’s flat. Yes, on top of the room where Hayim Nahman Bialik was working. Amazing and crazy! Zeev is professor at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. He writes, paints, is creative, teaches and educates himself and others and in his family with a loving wife and two daughters art is getting produced every day. For many years he has written, painted, designed comics and made illustrations for renowned newspapers and magazines in Israel, published books and invented many comic figures during this period. So kind of a normal life actually. But since a while it changed, because there came Shoshke.

She is one of his very special comic figures and a super heroine. This very simple but funny painted figure always was naked and she just spontaneously does what she wants. And this is mostly strange, funny and crazy stuff. He has painted this character for 20 years now and meanwhile for about four years Zeev becomes Shoshke himself time by time. He has always been himself in a physical person, but in a specially tailored Shoshke costume he visits the most diverse events, makes strange art, demonstrates in protests and organizes innovative projects. As Shoshke he has a special power to connect people. They work for the good and just love life. Currently, according to Marker Magazine “She” is one of the 100 most influential people in Israel.

How did this happen? I had to think of Kafka and one of his stories called “The Transformation” about an awakening as a beetle. But with Zeev Engelmeyer it was a little different. It was more like nearly suffocating and collapsing in a large plastic clam at an exhibition opening and then resurrecting as the superstar Shoshke in the appropriate costume. The costume is only incidental, but in his mind and his psyche some parts have evolved. And Zeev is simply a fantastic and lovingly creative person. It’s marvelous what has happened since then and what energies and ideas have been released. This is as well sometimes overwhelming and Zeev had to learn how to deal with it. Shoshke has developed a very special life of her own. What she does is unique and deeply motivating.

This is probably one of the most interesting stories we can present here. It’s a long interview, but it’s really worth listening or reading. The article is also filled with great photos and videos about the respective passages. What a man! Or woman! Or two people in one? Anyway, Zeev and Shoshke are great! Here is the podcast of our in-depth conversation. The conversation is also written down below and peppered with great photos of the art and actions of both Zeev and Shoshke.

Tell me about your art and what you are doing in your projects.

For many years I have been an illustrator and I worked in many magazines and newspapers. I did illustrations for adults and children. I did different styles of comics and for many years I did even my own magazines. And one of the heroines I drew, her name was Shoshke. She was born as a super hero and she is always naked. She is drawn and she looks like if a child would have drawn her. It´s a very kind of primitive drawing. And she is not trying to be nice. She is not beautiful or something like that. But I always envy her because she does whatever she wants. She is very existentialistic and very spontaneous. Whatever she likes, she is just doing it. I drew her and for many years I was an illustrator and sitting next to my table and drew. I never did any kind of performance and I also didn´t think that I was a performance artist. But about nearly exactly four years ago in 2016 I made a book. It´s called “Journey to Vulgaria” and it´s a book I was working on for two years in the making. It´s mixed with comics and illustrations that are vulgar in a way. And I thought that when it comes out that I would rest for a while. I thought I would take some time off from work. But two weeks after the book was on sale and was published Ayelet Bitan-Shlonsky who is the chief curator and director of the Bialik Complex, she is the head of a museum in Tel Aviv which is called Beit Ha’ir. It´s a Bauhaus and it´s one of the first buildings in Tel Aviv, also there was the first municipality. And she offered me to make an exhibition, a very big exhibition in this place, in the museum. So in the whole museum which has four floors. And I could fill it with my works. So because it was such a short time to work on that kind of exhibition it would have been very logical to take all the works which I have done in all the years and just frame them. But they gave me a very big opportunity and they said: “Just do whatever you want and we fund it.”

Wow, that´s perfect!

Yes, it was amazing! My wildest dreams came true. I made a list of about almost 200 works that were my fantasy. I wanted to make vitrages and glazing on the windows and I also wanted to make robots which would walk through the people at the exhibition. So I made six robots. And I made an 18 meter collage on the wall from the floor to the ceiling. This was 18 meters long which is huge. I also made many many sculptures. One was six meters long that was made out of cloth. I working with ten groups of people all over Israel. From the south a lad made me movies, from the north others made this huge cloth sculpture and for three month I almost didn´t sleep. I was just going from group to group and I made a series of very big holograms. One was two meters. So I was just moving from group to group and making all these sculptures and stuff and I really felt that I can do whatever I want. I will give you one example. One day I was walking out of the museum and right near the museum there is the house of our national poet. The national poet in Israel, his name was Hayim Nahman Bialik. He is very very famous and everybody knows him in Israel. And I said: “Wow, it would be very nice if a huge gefilte fish” – A gefilte fish is this Jewish food, which is grey and made out of fish. It´s really strange. And I said: “It would be really nice if a huge gefilte fish would fall from the sky on the room where Bialik wrote his lyrics and songs.” And they said: “Ok, it can be done. We just have to ask the people in the house of Bialik.” This house is also kind of a museum. And now this sculpture is there! On the roof! On the roof of the room of Bialik, who is our national poet, there is now a sculpture of a huge gefilte fish which fell from the sky!

So I really felt that I can do anything. I had all sorts of ideas and everything just came out. So I said: “Ok, this is my opportunity! For the opening of this exhibition I will be Shoshke, my own heroine myself!” So I went to a woman who is sewing clothing for theater. She is a custom designer and she made me Shoshke. I drew it and it was a lot of work, then she made a nice Shoshke costume. It was finished on the opening day of the exhibition. The opening of my exhibition was huge. It was actually the greatest opening that was in Israel. There was never such a thing. There were about 2000 guests filling the place before the museum. There were 12 dancers with designed costumed who were dancing around me. There was Marchdon Durmet which is an orchestra of 16 people with horns and drums. Also the museum made a surprise for me and they made firecrackers in the sky. So I am telling all this because for the show I was put into a huge clam like the Venus shell.

For me it sounds like a metamorphosis. Like before you were just this kind of normal illustrator. It is a really nice story. There was this kind of special event and then you really became your own heroine.

Yes, but the metamorphosis was traumatic. And I will tell you about it. I was put into this huge clam that was closed on me. It was closed for 25 minutes and it was very hot inside, because they brought the clam at around 1 o`clock at noon and I was put inside in the evening. So it was very very hot inside and it was in June. So I really thought I am going to die in there. It was so hot! And I started screaming from the inside and nobody could hear me because of the firecrackers and the orchestra and the 2000 people. So I really felt that I would ruin all the event because the clam will be opened and the artists is dead. You know, I really thought they are going to find me there dead. I really thought I am going to die inside there.

This would not have been a nice ending for this big show.

Haha, no, definitely not. And I was even thinking about that maybe I would lie there with my legs open or try to do at least something funny. So that it wouldn´t be so sad when they will find me there. But in the end it was opened. And it´s all filmed by the way. So it finally it was opened and I came out and make some sort of a dance. I was really happy that I am alive. And I talked to the people but I was talking really really strange. The words came out strange and like every twenty seconds just one word. I also forgot the most important things I wanted to say because I was so confused. And before that I really thought that I would going to be Shoshke only for the opening on this evening. But then other things happened. The first evening was really very important because I went with friends after the amazing opening to a pub which is called “The Monastery”. It was the first opportunity that I met many people who came there and it was really thrilling, because I wasn´t used to it. I was just in the center and many people came to take pictures or wanted to speak with me. It was amazing! And on the first evening about 3 o`clock at night I said goodbye to my friends and I went home as Shoshke on high heels. On Allenbi Street, which is a main street in Tel Aviv, I went back all the way home and one of the worst things happened that night. On the first night. A group of men came after me and they started calling me names. They even were physical and started pushing me. But I got away from them. And I also was really really curious about it and about Shoshke. Because it was amazing for me. My exhibition got a lot of coverage in all of Israel. And two days after the opening a couple from Paris in France offered me to be the Rabbi in their wedding as Shoshke. Because they saw the movie on Youtube. So they invited me to Paris and I flew to Paris with my two daughters and my wife. We stayed in Paris for three weeks and I was all the time Shoshke, which was amazing! I discovered that as Shoshke I don´t have as many fears that I have as Zeev. For example as Zeev I have a fear of heights. I don´t like to go on ladders or being in high places. And as Shoshke I really don´t mind. I can climb sculptures everywhere I go and I can do it like parcours. You know what parcours is?

Yes, the jumping and climbing throughout a city.

And I am doing it just as Shoshke. As Zeev I am much more a Rabbi. I can pray and I am afraid. But as Shoshke I am not afraid. That´s also why I became an activist.

This sounds very interesting and also motivating. I think I should try to make a super hero as well out of me. Or maybe everybody should try. Be sometimes somebody else.

I really can recommend it! And even artistically it is interesting. Shoshke is her own artists. Like there is the Zeev-Artist who is an illustrator and he draws in papers. Shoshke is another artist. She is very spontaneous and she draws differently. She is very very fast and doesn´t think a lot about the ideas. And after a while I opened a Facebook account for Shoshke. I started to post something every day. So every day I made a kiss coupon for my friends there who had birthday. So for everyone who had birthday I draw a kiss coupon and they could claim it if he or she wanted. It was a kiss coupon from Shoshke.

So your super hero became an own person herself. It´s not just a costume, it´s a real character meanwhile. With own life and friends and own style, and all that is separately now from you as Zeev.

Yes. It´s a real character. But also it wasn´t easy. It was even difficult many times. Because Shoshke is not considerate. She can stay till 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock in the morning and she drinks and is really happy. Everybody invites her all the time and everybody likes and loves Shoshke.

But then Zeev has to work in the morning.

Yes, Zeev has to work in the morning. He has to teach in Bezalel at the art school. And many times he comes and is very tired at school. And even with the family Shoshke is not considerate. Like my daughters really asked me many times if I can be Zeev. Because like being with Shoshke is sometimes nice, but she is also very very energetic. And my daughters sometimes don´t want it. Especially when we travel abroad they wanted time with Zeev, but Shoshke is very, you know, she decides. Now through time and after some experience, we learned how to live with it. And when we go abroad we decide how we plan it. A few month ago we have been to Poland and we decided like this: “Let´s say two days a week I am Shoshke and the other days I am Zeev.” But in the beginning like when we went to France, there I was for three weeks Shoshke all the time.

And this was too much.

Yes, it was too much for them. And also sometimes it´s difficult. In France I had three times the situation that the police came to me. One time it was because I jumped into the fountain at Center Pompidou. It´s a fountain by Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely. A beautiful fountain. I like it very much as Zeev, but Shoshke just came there and she jumped into the water to swim in the fountain. So two police men came, but whenever the police comes I say that I am an artist and I am doing it all over the world. And they would not want Paris the only place in the world which doesn´t allow it. It always works. Whenever I say that I am an artist, the police is really understanding and they even take pictures with me. So it always works and also in Israel by the way. Many times I got away because I was Shoshke. I did acts that as Zeev I would never pass. Activist acts. And because I was Shoshke the police let me go.

Very nice! So this is you alter ego and this is all part of your art project but it developed to something much bigger than only an art project. It´s meanwhile like a part of you. So would the interview be different if I would have it with just Shoshke?

Yes, I think so. Shoshke is not as logical as me. She is most of the time spontaneous and she just speaks out loud. I am more thinking about stuff. But Shoshke really allowed me many things and showed me there are no limits. You know what I all did? In the last four years I did things I would never have imagined I could do. And I can give you many examples. I made a collaboration with fifteen very famous and renown fashion designers in Israel who designed clothing like the style of Shoshke. For her. And it´s strange clothing. Like for example a dress with the design of the curls of her hair. And a bag or as well a very beautiful dress. It was amazing for me! Since then a couple of times there was a big convention in Moscow in Russia about humor in fashion. And one of the main lectures was about Shoshke. There was a doctor who made the speech and when they translated it into Russian they were laughing all the time. Also in a very famous British academic magazine there was a big article about Shoshke and in a book. And this is only what happened in the fashion area.

Like this Shoshke is very active in many many directions. Like in music as well. She recorded music and made her own shows with famous Israeli actors and singers. She also made collaborations with sport people. Like two groups of women who play soccer invited Shoshke to play with them. So I was playing and I made two goals in the game. But one was a self goal. I made a goal that was not good for my team. But I was playing with high heels. With red shoes. For about a year and a half all the collaborations that I made were artistic and fun. There was a Dadaistic evening at the Tel Aviv museum of arts and for the whole evening I was painting on people who wanted that I paint on their body. I painted many Shoshkes. And after a year and a half there was a big change in Shoshke. I became an activist as Shoshke which was a next level. It was another change in Shoshke, because before Shoshke was very kind of nonsense. She was very happy but she was not involved in active acts like in political issues.

First it was for Shoshke a bit like the time for growing up and playing around. And then the time came when she really became a super heroine.

Yes, I think so. And her activism is also fun. It´s always humoristic in a way, but surprisingly some of the acts were really influential. And she got credited for acts of activism she made against racism and against prejudice. I started going to all the demonstrations that moved me. Like there was a big demonstration for people that came from outside from Israel from Africa. I went to demonstrate with them and then I went as well to demonstrate with Arab women. And it´s amazing! I got beautiful letters, one by a Druze woman and she wrote me that I really give her hope. She said that she is in a very strict family and she can´t move there. And it´s very difficult for her. But when she read an article about Shoshke which she saw in the paper it really gives her hope that one can change his or hers identity and be free. For me the change is amazing and I can´t even start to tell you how big the change is. I give you one example. I told you about these coupons. The kiss coupons which I sent to all my friends on their birthday. And it came to more than one thousand coupons. And each one I draw by hand. Then I made a week in which everybody who wants can bring the coupon and we can kiss. So for one week I kissed many many many people. That was before the Corona of course! But I kissed either men or woman. If they had a coupon they could French kiss me.

You know, I am a father and I have a wife. And this is the way I lived for many years. And I didn´t think about these coupon kissings sexually or something like that. But as Shoshke everything is possible. Everything. So I had many adventures like this. Crazy adventures. It´s like Alice in Wonderland. That’s how the last few years have been for me. It´s like a carousel of crazy things that really happened. One day I was walking near my house and there is a famous place here in Tel Aviv which is called Rothschild Boulevard . And we were making a video about bananas. Suddenly we heard a party and the sound of music. As Shoshke I was hearing the party and I was just going inside. Usually I am not thinking too much if I am invited or not then. So we went up and it was a bachelor party for a woman who got married the day after. And there were about 30 women and all drunk. But after a few minutes I was just dancing there on a huge plastic banana with two drunken women. These are things which would never happen to me as Zeev. It´s only as Shoshke. She has a wild life!

Do you have or did you have as well times when Shoshke was too much for yourself? When you thought, Shoshke is now taking over everything?

Yes, yes. I had a few times like this. And also times when she went very far. Like the first situation which I am thinking about when you ask this was at a protest exactly one year ago. It was one of the hardest things I made. At that time it was very hard for me to see what is happening to our democracy. I can tell you that we have a terrible prime minister who is not a democrat. He wants to be a dictator and his decisions are not good. He speaks against minorities in the country and he is very populist. He is really really dangerous. I am doing everything I can to convince people.

I participated in many many demonstrations and I was frustrated because everything is really too soft for me. So I took a friend who is a performer, her name is Anna Sakarevski. We both went to the Knesset. You know, the Knesset is our minister’s parliament. And before we went to the Knesset we stopped the car so that I can change to Shoshke but by a stupid mistake we stopped the car in the parking of the prime minister near the prime minister’s office. So a minute after we stopped the car, there were five motor cycles with officers around us and asked us what we were doing. I wanted to convince them that it was alright. Of course I didn´t tell them about my protest. I just said that I am a performer and that I am going to a show. They wanted to take me and ask questions. So they asked me where I work. And I told them I am working at Yedioth Ahronoth which is the biggest newspaper in Israel. That was true, I was working there. And they checked it and let me go. Then I made the protest action near the Knesset which was a very difficult protest, because Anna poured red paint all over me. On Shoshke. And then as a protest I called it bleeding democracy. Then I started walking to the Knesset with Anna and there were many police men who stopped me. But because she poured the color on me I swallowed some color and they took me by the ambulance to the hospital. They made all the checks there but the day after they took me to the police to ask me questions. So I couldn´t get close to the parliament for a while, but as well I was fired from the magazine I was working. From Yedioth Ahronoth I was fired. Since then I am not working there anymore which was a difficult prize to pay. But it was discovered that the owner of the magazine was kind of a friend with the prime minister Benjamin Netanjaju. So probably this was the reason why I was fired. This act I did was really a bit more, it was like a different act. I am not sorry by the way! Like being fired from the newspaper. For me it was good.

You are an idealist and you fight for your beliefs.

Yes. So it is really that I am not sorry for it. But it was very difficult for my family because all this act in the Knesset at the parliament it was in the media. And my daughters and my wife saw it on television. They were really very very worried. My young daughter told me that is was the worst day in her life. She had to speak to me through the hospital. For them it was much more difficult than for me because I knew that it was okay. You know, I swallowed some paint, but I really knew that it was okay. I didn´t feel bad or anything. But for them it was very difficult. Like seeing me on television and it looked really scary because I was all covered in red paint and it looked like blood.

So it is this costume you have of Shoshke and there are different sceneries. You sent me photos of this action and there it really looked if you had blood all over.

Yes, exactly. This was the situation with red paint. Most of the actions I am doing I can say that are more fun for me. Even if it´s difficult physically. When I walk for a whole day and covering racist adds I am walking in the summer and it´s really very hot being Shoshke in the summer. But as well it is really nice and people are being happy about it. Many many people invite me to their homes. After one of my acts in Ramle which is an Arab-Jewish peak tens of Arab people and also Jewish people were happy about it. They were excited because I was covering racist ads. They put on a picture and there is a Jewish woman and the rest is Muslim and they wrote “This woman could be your daughter”. Like a warning. And under that they wrote “A Jewish Ramle”. And it is a city which is Arabic and Jewish. So for me it was terrible to see it, because saying “A Jewish Ramle” is like saying “There is no place for Arabs”. It´s terrible and I really felt that I must do something.

Yes, it´s racist.

It´s racist. So I went with a friend there and we covered all night just these ads. And the day after the municipality called me before I was on television about this act. They called me to tell me that they are taking out all the racist ads themselves. That was amazing! And it was just one day after that happened.

It´s very nice to listen to stories like this because it shows that as an artist if you do art and if you have influence on other people you can use it to do something good.

Yes. As well I had a much more friendly thing I´ve done. I did an event where Muslims and religious Jews painted together a huge mural which was hanging on the Muslim museum in Jerusalem. It was on the outside wall of the museum. And also I made in Jaffa another very big painting. Jaffa is also a Jewish-Muslim city. And this was done together by Jewish and Mulsim children from 17 schools. And because when I was acting as Zeev and I was illustrating, I really felt that I am in my own area of just illustration. But as Shoshke everything is possible. Everything! I am just having an idea and I am doing it. Like a few days ago the government wanted to close the beaches and the sea because of the Corona. So I made a few signs with something that I took from Berlin. In Berlin there is a writing on a very nice memorial that says “In a place where you burn books you will burn people”. So what I wrote was “In a place where you close the waves or the sea you will also close people”. Like it starts with this and then you will put people in jail or close them. And I put this signs on the beach, this was a few days ago. Now I can`t say that it was because of my acts what changed it. But after this the government decided not to close the beaches and to leave it open. I can´t say it’s because of my act but I really feel that these acts when they get coverage in the media it has something. It gets into people and they start thinking about it. They are thinking about their freedom.

For me you are not only a motivator for yourself, but also for others. And that makes you a hero. That´s what Shoshke really is about. Because if it only would be for you, you could just wear this dress or costume only in your flat or when you go out to enjoy some other parts of your character. But no, this is not enough. You are doing this in a big show to motivate everybody else. You want to show the other people something and you want to motivate them to get through the borders in their minds and to break their anxiety. And you want to motivate them and show them that it is possible.

I really agree! And I think that the fact that Shoshke looks like she does is very important. You know, she has humor. And I am a man in that costume. I am not trying to be beautiful. I do not even shave myself when I am Shoshke. I am not trying to look like a woman. I´m Shoshke, that´s it. But the motivation of Shoshke is really from the inside. Like doing things against racism is so much energetic. It makes her angry and she reacts in a way like a child would do. She sees this ads and she just covers them. A lawyer told me that it is really dangerous because I did it and he said that the fine can be sitting in jail for it. I can pay very big fines with sums of money. But I didn´t mind. And in the beginning of the first months of my activism people offered me financial help to print my posters. But I didn´t want it. I said to everybody that I was really afraid and I didn´t want it to look that somebody would pay for it. Sometimes people asked me: “Who helps you to print the signs? Probably Belgium or the European market is helping you!” Like when the Lefties are blaming. It´s like people want to blame and say that I make money out of it. And I didn´t want that. So I really didn´t want to get help. All the first month I wanted to go to New York, but all the money I saved to go there, I put on several posters. After a few month then I made some headstarts. A headstart is when you have an idea for a project and you put it on the internet and people can give money for this project.

Is it like crowdfunding?

Exactly. It´s crowdfunding. And in Israel it is called headstart. So I put my activist project as an headstart and it was amazing! In a few days lots of people gave me money for my activist acts. This was the way how I could make the acts with the huge paintings for the Muslim Museum and in Jaffa. It was amazing!

I think this is as well very important for artists and it´s a very nice and easy way to get some money from people via this crowdfunding option but for single projects. Because Shoshke has to stay independent. There cannot be like a single supporter or investor because that would mean Shoshke wouldn´t be independent anymore. But if you have an offer for a special project than it is alright if other people join in.

Yes. And I really recommend it. If you have an artistic idea that people can relate to, it´s a great way. A lot of times before I was already thinking about it, but really doing it then was amazing. It´s also a very good way to connect with people. Afterwards it was much easier for me to do it again. For example if I wanted to print something, then I got lots and lots of people who helped me. Afterwards I didn´t even have to pay for my stickers and my posters because many people were moved by the acts. So this was really amazing! There were movie makers who made clips, from Israel and from abroad. There was a group from the Finnish television and they made an article about Shoshke. They also came to make a short film about Shoshke which was very popular in Finland. So that was very nice. I was in many countries and I really like Berlin and also Köln.

One more question about your costume. Is it like this with the costume that you are always naked? Do you have like dresses for Shoshke or something like that?

No, nothing. Shoshke is always naked and always like this. It´s part of her. Shoshke started as a comic figure and she was always naked. And there is one comic story where she got dressed. She woke up in the morning and she was dressed. But her friends didn´t recognize her because she is always naked. So it´s like this and at one event in Jerusalem there was guy who is very terrible for me. He is very racist. Now he was the second most important man in Jerusalem and he is really very prejudice and against Arabs. But he resigned because of Shoshke. I went to Jerusalem and the municipality of Jerusalem asked me to get dressed when I come there. Even though the municipality invited me and asked me to get dressed, I didn´t agree. Because this is Shoshke and this is the freedom. And if I would get dressed for that, it wouldn´t be Shoshke. So he resigned from the municipality of Jerusalem and the week after a group of the municipality came to me to say: “Wow! We are so happy to get rid of him!” His name is Arieh King. But now he is back into the municipality again and it is not good. It is not good but that is the way it is. So we are now in a very big drama. There are big demonstrations and I am really happy because when I started protesting because of the loss of democracy I went to Jerusalem with one more artist. There were the two of us. And now in this week, there was a demonstration of thousands of people near the Knesset exactly at the place where I demonstrated. Now it is much bigger and many more people are realizing the danger we are in. There is a great danger because of this guy, our prime minister. And he has a gang around him that are doing things which are terrible in many many ways. They wanted to pass a law which is called “The Loyalty Law”. It is a law for artists and people in the culture scene. And they wanted every artist to swear loyalty and our creations would be judged by how loyal we are to the country. That is crazy!

This is a huge discrimination! It is like a punch in the face because an artist is only loyal to art. And art is free.

Exactly. And you must start your creation – every artist knows that – you must start with a clean and white paper. You are alone with your creation and there is nothing else, you are thinking and you are with yourself. And you can´t have the prime minister and his people standing behind your back and saying: “He he, you are not loyal here!” So I made many protests against it. One of them was when I was invited. I think this was made by mistake. But I was invited to a dinner with the minister in the government with forty people. Because I am a celebrity I was invited to this dinner and I was really surprised. And I said: “But you know that I am against this law?” But the woman who invited me to the dinner said: “It´s okay. You are on the list and you are invited for dinner.” Every one of us had to bring one dish for the dinner and I made a huge chocolate cake of the head of a dog. And I wrote on the cake: “Miri”, which is the minister’s name, Miriam Regev. I wrote with chocolate on the cake: “Do you want loyalty?” Because she wants the loyalty law. So I wrote “Do you want loyalty? Take a dog.” Because a dog would give you loyalty if you want it. And I brought this cake to the dinner. It took some time till they understood it. They let me in and took pictures with me as Shoshke. And then the guy who organized the event and the dinner with the ministers, he read it and he understood what I said. Then some security people asked me to get out. But it´s okay because I knew that this would happen. I knew it when I came with the cake.

But you came very far. You could get in and sit down and they didn´t get it from the beginning.

Yes, I know. It took some time. And another act that I made against this law was a painful act. Me and another artists published on Facebook and on social media an ad that said we want to fight this loyalty law. And we asked every artists who wants to donate a work of art can bring one work and we are going to burn the works of art as a sacrifice and as a protest against this law. It was one day before this law would have to be passed by the government. One day before during the night. So in one hour about 200 artists donated us works of art and some of them are the most important and famous artists in Israel. Very very big names donated a work of art. Then we went to a central place in Tel Aviv which is called Kikar Hamedina and is the “City Square”. There for two hours we made like a ceremony and we sacrificed the works of art as a protest against that law. And we said: “There is no art with this loyalty law! There is no art anymore!” In this act there were even more media people from Israel and around the world. All the evening was covered in every television in Israel and by the newspapers. The morning after the loyalty law was out of decision! They decided not to pass it! And till now it didn´t come back to the table and it didn´t pass. So it was really amazing! And I can say that this act wasn´t easy. It was painful because many artists brought a work of art which was meaningful for them. They didn´t choose a work of art which is like a sketch or just not that good. The people really choose the good ones. There was one artist who is really famous, Avner Ben-Gal, he choose a really beautiful painting he made from his last exhibition. And because the act was meaningful people choose meaningful artworks. A composer of music burned a composition which he made for music and one video artist burned video art from which he doesn’t has a copy. Like a one shot video. It was really very moving and also very sad. There was also music and people were singing. It was really beautiful and sad. And the day after the law was out of question and removed. There is a short movie of three minutes about this act.

This is really very touching and it shows that it is possible if people work together.

I remember now as well things that might be also interesting. I wanted to tell you about my influences of being Shoshke. What made me being Shoshke. And there are some things, let´s say like the artist Marcel Duchamp. He had a woman that he was acting as called Rrose Sélavy. And I also had a great influence by an Austrian artist called Oskar Kokoschka who had a huge doll which looked like his lover who left him. So he made a big doll and for two years he was living with this doll. It´s amazing! And he was a professor at university and an arts school. There he came to classes with the doll of his lover. After two years he stopped but this act was artistic and influential for me because he kept doing it for a long time. I also heard and read about it and have seen interviews. This act was very influential for me and how an act can get into your life. This was something which gave me some guts to make it myself. But I didn´t imagine that it would be for so long now. It´s four years now! And many many people are doing presents for Shoshke. I will make an exhibition with about 1000 sculptures from people who made me Shoshke images. I have a lot of amazing stuff like many sculptures which people sent me. In the last year I got a prize from the Tel Aviv municipality for the acts and a few month ago I got elected. The magazine called “The Marker” publishes once a year a list with the 100 most influential people in Israel. And in this year I was elected for one of the 100 most influential. I am there on the list with them. The most influential people in Israel are Netanjahu, the prime minister, and Putin and Trump. And you know, those people.

And Shoshke! Yeah!

Yes! And Shoshke is in this list! Crazy! And it´s the first time that an artistic heroine, like a super hero is on that list.

So it is not even Zeev Engelmayer who is on this list. No, it´s Shoshke!

Yes, it´s Shoshke! Exactly!

Very nice and really cool! When you talk about art there is like this one part where you really have in the end the results like an object, a painting, a sculpture or a song. But what you are doing is on a different level. I think everybody who does performance, is an actor or works at the theater knows that as well, because the “product” you do is to change the role you are playing. So you get into another role and you play somebody else. If you do this it´s a bit different than just drawing a painting. You really have to change how you are at the moment, how you behave and how you percept. This is very deeply psychological as well.

Yes. And in addition to this Shoshke really changed my artistic abilities. While I am doing these activist acts I am also involved in exhibitions all over at many places. In the last year I exhibited a lot. I made five wall paintings in the Science Museum in Jerusalem and I made a collection of Hamsas in the Museum of Islamic Art in Jerusalem. A Hamsa is like a hand made of wood with acrylic paintings. I also made an exhibition of comics in Tel Aviv in the Museum of Illustration and I made an exhibition of sculptures in another museum in Ramat Aviv which is another city. And one of the sculptures was one of the most difficult sculptures I ever made. It is like a slot machine from Las Vegas. So I made this really strange slot machine which is a Jewish slot machine with Jewish happy “Hasidic Music” when you win or sad music when you lose. And I got the machine for it from Las Vegas, it was a real machine. And it works! So I am doing a lot of things which I´ve never done before. Many many things and this all the time. It´s like having six careers of artists together because all the time I´m involved in many different projects. And it is amazing!

When you paint as Zeev is this different to when you paint as Shoshke? Or do you wear the Shoshke dress while you paint and then the results are different?

Yes. As Shoshke I´m much less considerate. It´s not only with drawing it´s also when I´m teaching in the art school. Then my students really want me become Shoshke. They ask me if I can be Shoshke again because as Shoshke I am very enthusiastic, I am very happy and I have no problem to come into the class. I see the works of them all and say: “Wow! It´s amazing!” You know, it´s beautiful! And as Zeev I am much more rationalistic. I am standing there and saying: “Yes, this connects to this artist work.” I am more rational as Zeev and this also while I´m painting. When I paint as Zeev there are voices inside me that say: “Ok, but it has to look more like this.” I am thinking a lot. As Shoshke I don´t think as much as Zeev. I am much more spontaneous in my line. I paint very happy and my colors as Shoshke are much wilder. When I paint as Shoshke I don´t really think something like “This color has to be like this or looks good with this color.” As Shoshke I am much much wilder and very happy and everything is good. Even my protest and the posters that I am doing for the protest. They don´t look like regular protest. When I go to protests I have this sign that I go to protest with and I always change it. I paint from protest to protest another visual and sometimes I do collages. And sometimes it´s very very high. I am holding a sign that is about four meters high and it looks very colorful. It has lots of impact.

How you described all of this, you could use as well the word schizophrenic. But the word schizophrenic it´s always related to something like sickness or illness. But you use this new character in a positive way and everything how you described it sounds like Zeev and Shoshke are just a super wonderful team. It sounds like you get the best out of both parts, also that you work together well and that you have an all over control about this.

Yes, and now I am so connected to Shoshke that I cannot really imagine a life without her. After a few days I really need to be Shoshke again.

It´s like a symbiosis.

Yes, it is. And when I go out of my house. It is a little bit like a drug. Like taking drugs. When I put on Shoshke, even when I am tired and this happened many times, I am tired and I put on Shoshke. And I say: “Oh, how can I be Shoshke now?” But two minutes later, I am really wow, full of energy. I get lots of energy and people are smiling and are happy. It fulfills me.

This word schizophrenic and how we use it in our society at the moment is in a bad way and related to sickness. But actually this also happens if you avoid the other parts in yourself. If you put always everything away, the pain, the wishes, the thoughts you shouldn´t think and all that, after a while this part of repression will grow bigger and make you sick as well. So this is actually also a bad way a lot of people are struggling with. But you teach them with Shoshke how to be free. If it cannot be in the one structure so invent a new structure, but in a way that you can connect the old and new structure and it all can work together.

Yes. And I really think that a key of doing it is this like for me with Shoshke: I give her freedom to do whatever she wants. Sometimes Shoshke does things that I wouldn´t do. Like you know, she went to the old city in Jerusalem to a place that people who were with me were really afraid of. But Shoshke is not. And many times Shoshke is doing things that maybe I wouldn´t do but I always wanted. And she lives this way even at the protests.

 This is wonderful!

You know that sometimes people ask me: “Till when will you be Shoshke?” They ask it ever since the first day I was Shoshke. “Till when? When will it stop?” And I think that…

.. it just started!

Haha! Yes. And all the time she surprises me! All the time! If I tell you the last few weeks what she did. All the time she does new things and also I am really curios about her what will happen when she is getting old. What will happen to Shoshke in a few years when she is not so popular like today? You know like today she has many many friends and Facebook and connections all over the country. And she is popular and she has attention. But in a few years people will get used to her and she won´t be so popular anymore. So I am thinking about that and this makes me also curious. What will happen to Shoshke when she now sings to people and collects money in the streets? I don’t know. Maybe then she has wrinkles around her eyes.

This shows as well that this is also kind of a self experiment. And of course you are curious, you are as well a teacher. So just this part is very interesting and also kind of fun to look what will happen. How will she develop? How will she be? How will all this dynamic continue?

Yes, it´s really very interesting. And I don`t know. I let it grow.

I think Shoshke will be older, yes. But that is what she will be then, just a bit older Shoshke. I think she is now a part of you and she will stay with you because you didn´t sound in any way disturbed or that you negative effects from this. It´s really like a symbiosis and you are just a good team.

Yes, I think so. We learned to be a good team.

First I thought you are doing paintings and these photos were from one performance, but now I really understand what you are doing. It needs more Shoshkes on this world! Or everybody has to be the own Shoshke.

Yes, I can recommend that! About three weeks ago I woke up in the morning and the first thing I saw on Facebook was something about wild boars in Haifa in the north of the country. I decided to make a post but not a real post. I said that I am doing a project of putting sculptures of boars around Haifa. So I made like a collage and it got a lot of attention. I made three collages and at the first day I got thousands of people that reacted to it. And in the evening I got a phone call from the municipality of Haifa. They asked me what is going on with this project with the boars in Haifa. Of course it was all kind of fake news because it´s imaginative. But many people thought that I really did it. So the day after I went to Haifa with a real sculpture of a boar. It was a golden boar. And I put it in two places in Haifa. In the center of Haifa and near the municipality building. And I took pictures of it and I took pictures of people looking at it of me near the sculptures. Then people really thought that this project was real with the sculptures of the boars. And after that many people from Haifa sent me pictures and movies of boars in Haifa and about interactions with them. The people in Haifa now, there are many people who fight the boars and who are against them. But as well there are people who are really like the boars and you can see the interactions are beautiful. Like giving the boars food. But in Israel these boars are very bad. You know that for religious Jews pigs are unkosher.

They are dirty, they are not good.

Yes, not good. So it is a very bad kind of treating a living being and it is a very sensitive subject.

It´s a level of racism as well, but not racism between humans but an act of racism against one species.

This is what I said! Exactly! That all this project that continued for three weeks now. For me it is exactly what you said now. It is like treating people from other countries. It is like racism. Because you can see that most of the time there were no violent acts in Haifa from the boars. Only from people. And it happens only when people are mean to the boars. Like when people came and started to go to the mother boar and her little ones and they started to annoy them or to steal the cups. So it is really interesting and there was one act when people even put some police against the boars. There was a fight. Actually they have now a way, but these boars just need a place to be in the forest near Haifa. They must let them have some territory. And they come to the city also because they don’t have a territory.

But not only the boars need that. Every human being and every animal needs that. And I think this is something what Shoshke wants to explain and to tell others. The only way how all of this world and everything can work on in the future or keep on existing is if we find a way to work together and to live together.

This is it! It´s life. Exactly. It´s defending life. And now I am going to have an exhibition. I was invited to make a big exhibition in Haifa about all this project. About all the collages and the sculpture. And I am also building a feeding place for boars. It´s made out of iron and it´s a place there is inside food for boars and they will be able to come and eat from it.

Sometimes it´s so easy if you just have the idea. If you make a place where people can put in some food, the boars will just go there and eat the food there and they will not stroll around and search for food.

Yes, in the garbage or around the houses. And then people are angry and think they are mean or something. So this is the idea. And also it makes people think that if we make these places to feed the boars, maybe it makes them start thinking that these boars are not mean. Maybe they are just animals that want to be fed like us and want to live. So this is the idea and it is going to be in Haifa in about a month. And I remember now one more thing.

Yes, tell me! Your stories are great!

About a couple of month ago a woman, an artist of Denmark, sent me a picture and she drew herself kind of a male-Shoshke. It was amazing! She made there like a series of that male-Shoshke. She sent it to me in a letter and then she wrote me that she and herself, sometimes she puts on herself a man costume. She gets in the costume and becomes the man called “Karsten”, which is a writer. And she dresses like him and she even paints big black hair on her body.

Great! I think Shoshke and Karsten should meet one day for a date!

They already met! We went out to the city and took pictures. And she is a man then. It is like Shoshke. But Shoshke is the woman side and she is the male side. But it wasn´t easy for us because she is Karsten. She is like a Danish writer when she is a man. And Karsten is not like Shoshke. Because Shoshke is very wild and funny and happy. And Karsten is very intellectual. He always speaks about democracy and the way how democracy should be and all these theories. All the times he quotes from books. And Shoshke is not easy for him, she is not serious. And many times when we go out Karsten says: “Behave yourself!” He is very very serious, he can´t take it. Sometimes we do get drunk together, then he is more fun. But he is usually very very serious.

So we spent some time together and we have great pictures. And then she couldn`t stay and went back to Denmark, but she will be probably back in a few month. So it is really very interesting. But as well it is very strange because we really like each other but Shoshke and Karsten are in a very strange situation. They are not very good as a couple. Like he is very strict and she is very wild. So it is really strange.

I think just this is super nice material to make a movie about it.

Yes, probably. Last thing I will tell you. My house is full with art. Sometimes we laugh and say my house is like an art factory. Because all the house is filled with artistic stuff, colors and books and sort of art is always there. We are doing stuff. I have two daughters and also my wife, we are all producing so much stuff! In the last few days my younger daughter who is 16, she started drawing on herself. She took this eyeliner, the painting for the eyes. This is just one of them and she covered all her body with paintings. And we went to a friend of mine who is a photographer and he took amazing photographs. My other daughter is drawing and she draws really beautiful and now she has an exhibition that opened last week. So it is like we are very very much into the art. And it is amazing! In Israel I see many things and many friends who are around me, they are all worried about the politic stuff. And the art really has the power to take you out of it. You know, it is art. It helps when you do art, even if you are worried about this loyalty law and the things what the prime minister is doing. Art is really a great cure and a great thing. It´s like growing a huge flower in your house. It´s amazing! And my big daughter, she has not a disease, but she has to be very very careful all the time on what she eats. And also for her art is really amazing. She was for some time in the hospital and I saw how art really helps in difficult times. So I really recommend it! It´s a great cure for everything.

It´s just fantastic that it was possible to have this conversation. I am here in Germany in Frankfurt, you are in Tel Aviv in Israel and I hope there is a lot of information and motivation for people who are listening to do similar things. I mean they don`t have to be Shoshke. But be creative and just use art!

Yes! It gets you to see the wonders around us. And it moves you towards them. Wonderland is here!






  Tamar Engelmayer (Shoshke’s daughter):


Elad Ackerman:

Eviatar Amar:

Rami Ben Ari:

Shy Ben Ari:

Yonatan Berman:

Daniel Bibas:

Guy Geva:

Meged Gozani:

Adi Halfin:

Anna Kantorowitz:

Shay Tra Litman:

Rafi Michaeli:

Oranit Turgeman:

Lilach Raz:

Maxim Reider:

Din Aharony Roland:

Line Sondergaard:


  Eviatar Amar:

  Shira Granit:

  Shay Tra Litman:


Shosh Graffiti  – Adi Sened:

Shosh Portrait – Yotam Rubinger:

Ancient Shosh – Irit Rotem:

Naama Levin:


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