The Secret in the Scent, 2016, Odelia Elhanani - Eretz Israel Museum

The Secret in the Scent, 2016, Odelia Elhanani

Photo: Hadar Saifan


Tapestry cloth, embroidery thread, metal frame; hand embroidery


Odelia Elhanani, b. 1959


An embroidered image that brings together the art of European painting, referencing The Gleaners by Jean-François Millet (1857), and photographs of women laundering clothes in India. The work was created over a period of several months by Odelia Elhanani, in collaboration with a cooperative of women from the Bedouin town of Lakiya in the Negev Desert, whose mission is their own empowerment. This work raises questions about traditional handicrafts and about fraternity, female solidarity and sharing secrets, as well as about the social role of women throughout history.

“Each one of the women embroidered a different part of the work, resulting in multiple ‘handwritings’ visible mainly on the back of the tapestry, where the mistakes and various qualities of the embroidery are revealed, delineating different portraits – both those of the embroiderers and that of the artist who embroidered alongside them. The reverse side both exposes and conceals the secrets embedded in it, and calls to mind the use of embroidery as a code encrypting female secrets within the tapestry. This installation moves between different temporal moments and contrasts, linking East and West, the 16th and 21st centuries, past and present, traditional and contemporary handicrafts. The image, meanwhile, vacillates between traditional “high art” associated with masculinity and female handicrafts.”

“The traditional concern with laundry and textile, alongside its transformation into a material that encloses secrets while also allowing for expression and perhaps even change, is a-temporal and extends across geographical boundaries. This is the history of art, the history of female launderers and embroiderers, as well as the history of women more generally.”


On display at the Rothschild Gallery, Tel Aviv Biennale of Crafts & Design, MUZA – Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv.