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Culture

The Masculine Mystique

In Roy Rub’s new work, “Promise Lands,” the artist and typographer uses old advertisements to engage with the process of leaving one promised land (Israel) for another (New York).

In “Promise Lands,” Rub compares the American cowboy, particularly the Marlboro man, with the Israeli pilot. Both are “cool,” iconic has-beens. “My Son the Pilot” is based on a 1960s El Al advertisement poster that Rub found on eBay. The ad shows “an elderly woman glowing with pride that her son became a pilot,” Rub said.

The project is different from his last design, iType, a font that Rub created with Seth Labenz when the two were classmates at Cooper Union. The font, which was designed as art rather than a functioning word processing tool, forms each letter out of Rub’s nude body in silhouette, with him wearing only an iPod. Rub and Labenz drew their inspiration from iPod commercials, which often depict monochromatic characters set in bright, colorful backgrounds.

For his new project, Rub embroidered airline pillows with horse motifs, which he describes as ambiguously either having sex or fighting, a reflection upon “gender fluidity.” A diptych declares in the left panel, “For my fifth birthday, my grandmother gave me a toy kit with power tools, although I asked for needlework of galloping horses.” The right panel shows a man in the water holding a rifle looking heavenward. The piece explores “the complexity of being part of the ‘strong,’ ‘fighting’ people and yet being a little gay kid that loved doing embroidery and animals,” Rub said. “I believe that this contradiction is in the core of Israeliness, the soft and strong brought together.”

“It was also interesting to me as an image of a sexy guy in the water, holding his rifle,” Rub added. “I like the relationship between the text and the guy. Is he the speaker? How is the childish text being read next to his show of masculinity? Does it make the soldier into a desired object or into a fake front and a fake smile?”

The smile might be fake and the masculinity only surface deep. But through his promiscuous typography and Marlboro-Man-turned-Israeli, Rub shows himself to be grappling with some very real questions about identity. His work is certainly off-center, and perhaps even off-color. Then again, a mainstream artistic approach to exploring Israeli identity would make about as much sense as slapping a censored symbol and a black rectangle over Rub’s naked body in iType.

Menachem Wecker writes the religion and art blog Iconia.canonist.com.

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