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Yishay Garbasz identity, agency, human rights, and the construction of gender


"Right or wrong -- you must step out of the way and allow the picture to enter the camera," a trans lesbian woman of British-Israeli descent; Garbasz is a Berlin-based visual artist born in the 1970's. Garbasz studied photography at Bard College in New York. Garbasz's work delves deeply into sociopolitical issues of: identity, agency, human rights, and the construction of gender. Her latest show a solo exhibition "Severed Connection: Do what I say or they will kill you" appeared at the Ronald Feldman Gallery where it ran from May 9 - June 13 in NYC, which chronicles three sites of hot conflict and resounding trauma produced by fear of the other.


In an interview with Tobaron Waxman on March 3, 2013 Yishay was quoted as saying "I’m an artist; not a trans-artist, or a Jewish artist, just an artist. A lot of people struggle with gender as something that shapes their lives. There’s a lot more to life than gender. If not for the socially enforced constraints upon gender, we would have much richer lives as people. The full interview can be accessed at Pretty Queer . Tobaron's interview provides the reader with a perspective of both Yishay's educational background, life philosophy and various images and names of her numerous photo installations. What I surmise from Yishay's interview with Tobaron is that her main concern is not her identity as a transwoman, but as a woman. It is Yishay's aducity to experience her own human existence as a woman without her society's permission that brings her into conflict with society.

When individuals refuse to live within the legal constraints that society has laid out for them as individuals without breaking the law, they threaten society's belief that it naturally possesses power over them; thus, forcing society to recognize its inherent power over disparate individuals exist only because those individuals have given their society permission to possess power over them. Unfortunately, society is composed of aggregates of individuals that choose to deal with their own personal issues "whatever they may be" by projecting those issues on to others instead of working through them in a mature fashion.

Large numbers of Jews walk along a street in the Warsaw ghetto.
 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. (1941). (Photo courtesy of the USHMM)
An individual's inability to resolve their own issues may cause so much tension within them that they may need to project their issues onto others and deal with those others in ways that they refuse to deal with themselves in order to alleviate the tension that they've allowed to build up within them, or their inner tension may be increased by witnessing aspects of those issues they're unable to work through within others even if those others or the individuals themselves are unaware of it. This is phenomenon is known as projective identification. Why is this an important phenomenon in explaining why Garbasz's existence as a transwoman is threatening to her society or responsible for her work. This phenomenon would come under internalized self-hatred or severe rejection of the self; the individual is unable to live with aspects of themselves that they believe, consciously or unconsciously, make them undesirable to others or decrease their chances for survival either as an individual or a group including powerlessness; a trait that is often associated with that which is considered "other" and prone to various forms of socially sanctioned retribution or scapegoating.    

In two subsequent projects, Garbasz documented the path of her mother’s path to a Nazi extermination camp, counting the number of steps and photographing her progress periodically, and branded her arm with her mother’s prison camp identification number. These numbers constitute abstracted markers of real-world experiences that Garbasz translates back into materiality through her performances and documentary photographs. Yishay's work involving the intersection of: race, gender, sexuality and class could be viewed as her attempt to positively deal with the residue of inter-generational trauma present within her own family which would be considered transgenerational PTSD


A Walk Through Auschwitz

According to non fiction writer and journalist Robin Rowland in his March 16, 2014 article "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the children of veterans" it is possible that the psychological and emotional trauma experienced by Yishay's mother could have been transmitted to Yishay and other family members. It would be possible to view Yishay's work as self directed occupational therapy utilized to aid her in dealing with unintentional psychological and emotional wounding inflicted upon her by her mother who was born in Berlin. Yishay's mother escaped from the Nazis to Holland where she deported to Westerbork, then to Theresienstadt through Auschwitz-Birkenau; after arriving in Christianstadt she marched to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated by British forces. 

Despite Yishay's apperance as a white female, she is considered "other" due to her being a transwoman and a person of Jewish descent. However, what is important to note in her description of other is that her family history also posits her as being "other" due to her possession of an immediate family history that few of us would be able to relate too. Thus, Yishay's identity and family history demonstrates that "otherness" may be based on dissimilarities between people other then race/skin color or gender.  Perhaps that is why her personal experience and family history as "other" makes her well suited to document issues of sociopolitical issues of: identity, agency, human rights, and the construction of gender.


According to Wikiapedia Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights in Germany evolved significantly between 2000 and 2017. During the 1920s, Because LGBT people in Berlin were generally tolerated by society many bars and clubs pertaining to gay men were opened.[2] Sexual activity between men was made illegal under Paragraph 175 by the German Empire in 1871, Nazi Germany extended these laws during World War II, which resulted in the persecution and deaths of thousands of homosexual citizens. These extensions were repealed in 1950 and sexual activity between men was decriminalized in both East and West Germany in 1968 and 1969. The age of consent was equalized in unified Germany in 1994.

Registered partnerships which provide most of the same rights as opposite-sex married couples for same-sex couples have been legal in Germany since 2001,. Same-sex step adoption has also been legal since 2005 and was expanded in 2013 to allow someone in a same-sex relationship to adopt a child already adopted by their partner;[3] however, joint adoption has not yet been legislated.

Discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity vary across Germany, but discrimination in employment,  and provision of goods and services is banned nationally. Transgenders have been allowed to change their legal gender since 1980. The law initially required them to undergo surgical alteration of their genitals in order to have key identity documents changed. This has been declared unconstitutional.[4] Germany is the first country in Europe to enact a law that allows German citizens to assign intersex infants as neither male or female on their birth certificate.[5]

Despite two of the three political parties in the German Government being socially conservative on the issues of LGBT rights, Germany has frequently been seen as one of the most gay friendly countries in the world.[6][7] Recent polls have indicated that a majority of Germans support same-sex marriage.[8][9] Another poll in 2013 indicated that 87% of Germans viewed that homosexuality should be accepted by society, which was the second highest in the world (only 39 countries were polled) following Spain (88%).[10] Berlin has been referred to by publications as one of the most gay friendly cities in the world.[11] The former mayor of Berlin, Klaus Wowereit, is one of the most famous openly gay men in Germany, next to the former mayor of Hamburg, Ole von Beust, the Secretary of State of Finances, Jens Spahn, the deceased former Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle and comedian Hape Kerkeling.

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