"In my travels to Israel, I became deeply sympathetic to the plight of women conscripted into military service," explains artist Beth Scher, the painter behind the series "Female Soldiers."
"I imagined my daughter, who was the same age as these women, in a similar situation."
Scher has become particularly mesmerized by this comparison, between her daughter and the young female soldiers she encountered through several trips to Israel. A desire for attention, the urge to be a sexual being, a tendency to act "girlish" in public -- these were qualities she saw in her own child as well as the young women carrying guns and serving in positions of power traditionally reserved for men. She began to wonder what consequences a society with such a dichotomy experiences.
"What gains does she make in society when she is considered 'equal' [to the men in her field]? Does this translate into the civilian population? Does she face abuse while serving? Is she subjected to the denigration of the patriarchal hegemony?" Like any curious artist, Scher turned to her medium of choice -- mixed media paintings -- to explore these questions.
The resulting images, embroidered portraits that place smiling faces and intimate gazes in the same frames as assault rifles and camouflaged regalia, give an abstract glimpse into Scher's inner dialogue. She inserts pins into her paintings, wrapping colored threads around the bodies of her subjects, highlighting everything from a casual pose or shared laugh, to target practice and synchronized drills.
"In my own artwork, I view them... as young women who are aware of and seek to display their sexuality and vulnerability. Yet, unlike my daughter, are also in a position of power, trained killers and placed in serious conflicts," Scher explained in an email to The Huffington Post. "These depictions are intended to evoke conversations about the role women play in the military, especially among those carrying weapons."
While female soldiers around the world face a familiar dilemma, of infiltrating a realm previously reserved for a male majority, Scher sees the circumstances of women in Israel as something slightly different. "I find that, aside from the politics of the area, Israeli women are unique in that they are conscripted into service for a period of two years," she points out. "The woman that serves in the Israeli army is quite different from, say, a U.S. female soldier who is likely to be serving to improve economic opportunities."
From femininity to feminism, Scher's series doesn't necessarily answer the questions posed by the artist; rather, it points a painted finger at the not-so-obvious reality women of different cultural backgrounds, identities and economic statuses confront. Take a look at Scher's project here and head over to her website to learn more about her work.