The project “Man on Fire” began to form in the summer of 2012, following an incident of self-immolation committed by a demonstrator during a large-scale social justice protest in Tel Aviv, Israel.
Israel’s social justice protests started just a few months before OWS, in July 2011. Different groups, varying in their Socio-Economic and religious backgrounds, came together to express their frustration towards the high cost of living, later focusing on the Israeli government’s set of priorities and power structure. Inspired by the Arab Spring events and with hope to bring social and political change to their country, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators gathered in the main squares of Tel Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, and called for social justice.
The Israeli protest did quiet down a bit as the summer was over and the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made a commitment to provide some solutions, mostly in regards to a serious housing shortage problem. In the summer of 2012 the social protest had started to rise again, as the social conditions and priorities had not improved. On July 14th, 2012, at a large demonstration in the main square of Tel Aviv, a 52 year-old former delivery company owner whose business was repossessed by the State, Mr. Moshe Silman, set himself on fire. He left a note describing his personal story, accusing the government for his suffering.
Previous cases of self-immolation have appeared in Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and other countries throughout the events of the Arab Spring. The act itself can be found in centuries-long traditions in some cultures. However this act of self-immolation was the first in Israel’s short history of social protest. Mr. Silman’s suicide has since led to a series of followers who tried (and sometime succeeded) to set themselves on fire as protest of their condition and the government’s treatment of them.
The artists who contributed to this project were invited to respond (within the limitations of a printed publication) to what has become in modern times a radical form of political protest. While some of the works were preexisting, other works were done in response or following the invitation to contribute. Most of the participating artists live and work in New York, with the exception of Shai Yehezkelli, who currently lives in Tel Aviv, Israel.
I would like to thank the fantastic artists who took part in this project. I would also like to thank those artists who, even though their work was not included here, have greatly contributed to the discussion and thought process surrounding this small publication.