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Art & Sex in Israel

“A magazine about sex has to be sexy, don’t you think?” Merav Maroody asks in response to a compliment about the design of Ms.Use, a new — and gorgeous — Israeli periodical focusing on both art and sexuality. But Maroody, editor in chief, has a much wider vision: “We’re trying to build a community, to find out if a magazine has the power to do that,” she explains.

Ms.Use launched in 2009, and has put out two glossy issues, each focusing on a different aspect of sexuality; its first issue sold over 1,000 copies — no small feat for a niche publication in Tel Aviv. Why sexuality? “For something that is the one universal topic — the one thing that’s on everyone’s mind constantly — sex is something that people have a really hard time talking about. Even with your close friends, it can be hard, especially, to ask questions about things you think might not be normal.” Ms.Use is a forum, giving people a language (both textual and visual) and a common ground to have those sometimes difficult conversations. Maroody, 34, says she’s often asked why a magazine couldn’t just deal with the issue of sex once and move on to other topics. “That’s what people don’t understand,” she explains. “We think sex is a lens for viewing the world — not a topic. Sex ed in Israel runs, generally, from non-existent to awful,” and Ms.Use is an underground way to redress some of that.

And why art? Maroody, who graduated from art school in Israel in 2001, sees sex and art as inextricably linked. “The time around when I graduated, it was a crappy time for art in Israel. The political situation sort of stifled people’s expression and their ability to express interest in art, and at the same time artists weren’t making enough effort to get art out to people who would have been interested in it, but would never ever set foot in a gallery.” Maroody found such conditions oddly inspirational: after beginning her career in cinematography, something she still does in between issues, she started a series of independent projects intended to bridge the divide between Israeli art and regular Israelis. The project that ultimately stuck is Ms.Use, which Maroody hopes will not only plug Israelis into their own artistic scene, but will also serve as a bridge for ideas about sexuality, bringing them from the academy to the general populace. One column is written by a former prostitute, another by a disgruntled tech writer. Article ideas sometimes come from readers themselves, with whom Maroody engages in long debates via Ms.Use’s Facebook page.

“Israel has a lot of really conservative ideas about gender and gender roles, and to build our way out of that is going to take a while — and I believe it has to be done visually. Because it’s visually that we first observe and categorize a person — we tag them ‘male’ or ‘female’ or whatever. If we can teach people to see everything in a more complicated way, then we can help pause that moment of initial tagging, and complicate it.”

Ms.Use is currently available only in Hebrew, though plans are in the works to finance an English translation. Non-Hebrew readers will still marvel at the vivid art, and Hebrew readers will find that the gaping hole of Israel’s ’zine culture has gotten smaller, thanks to this young magazine with lots of attitude and an eye for the unexpected.