Two gay Israeli men have installed a huge double bed in a New York City art gallery and are inviting Arab men to become their "lover" as part of an exhibition called "Sleeping With the Enemy."
But the artists, who like to be known simply as Gil and Moti, talk about the project in romantic terms, saying it's about "falling in love" rather than sex. Gil said visitors should not come to the show expecting to see pornography.
"The bed is there for us to live in. Artistically there are three pillows to symbolize unity of three people, which goes along with the whole concept of 'make love, not war,'" he said.
"We try to actually open up a dialogue and debate, which is about more important issues than just sexual matters, and if there's sex, OK, but it's not something we're interested in discussing," Gil said.
The sales pitch for the show, in which the two live and work in the gallery surrounded by their art, reads, "Israeli artists Gil and Moti are gay, married, and in love. For 5 weeks, they court an Arab lover."
Since late 2002 they have made contact online with as many as 300 Arab men from across the Middle East. They typically send a message through a dating site asking if they can paint a picture from the man's photo and explaining who they are.
They then scan and e-mail the painting as a means of "seduction" and, hopefully, start a dialogue and meet, Gil said.
The gallery, called Jack the Pelican, in Brooklyn, is displaying over 100 of the watercolors, priced at $700-$900, along with some transcripts of e-mail exchanges, photos, and oil paintings and the bed.
"We felt frustrated with the political situation in the Middle East," said Gil. "As Israelis, we grew up with Arabs, but we were encouraged by the education system to hate and abuse them, so we thought we must do something about it. So we decided to fall in love with one of them."
Moti is coy when asked whether the bed might actually be put to use if they meet an Arab man they like.
"We want people to think about sex when they enter the show because we have a bed in the front, and it's clear that we are living here, but we're not interested in showing that," he said, appearing a little bashful for a man standing in front of paintings of naked men in graphic sexual positions.
Gil said they had not invited anybody to join them yet, but one local Arab man had invited them to his home.
The exhibit includes video and pictures of a Lebanese man named Oliver who lived with them for nearly a year in the Netherlands. One photograph shows the three men standing naked and covered in mud in a wood, holding hands.
"We actually fell in love, with the three of us," Gil said. "He saw us as one person because we're together 24 hours a day--I think it's no longer clear how individual we are."
"He said he loved not just us but the concept. But at some point it got complicated," Gil said, explaining that Oliver found the pressure of living with performance artists who consider their life a constant show too difficult, so he left.
Ages 37 and 33, Gil and Moti, who met 11 years ago at art school in Israel, dress alike, on this occasion in yellow T-shirts embroidered by Gil's mother with flowers and their names in Arabic, and both wear their hair gelled into spikes. (Reuters)