Zeus was the sixth and last child born to the Titans Cronus and Rhea. In fear of a prophecy that he would be dethroned by one of his sons, Cronos swallowed his children as soon as they were born. To save her youngest from a similar fate, Rhea tricked her husband and gave him a stone wrapped in cloth rather than her newborn infant, and Cronus swallowed the stone, thinking it was his son. Rhea gave birth to Zeus in a hidden cave in Crete, and he was clandestinely raised by nymphs, until he grew up and reached adulthood. Having defeated the Titans and Typhon, he became the supreme ruler of the world and king of the gods. He took over the heavens, and built his palace on Mt Olympus.
The gods are gods, but in Greek mythology they are far from perfect. They cheat and connive; they have passions and act on impulses. Zeus, for one, despite his greatness and his being the strongest of the gods, is not the shrewdest one. He seems highly impulsive, and his lechery leads him to assume different forms to seduce goddesses, nymphs, and mortals alike. One of these was Metis (good advice, practical wisdom), whom Zeus wanted to seduce to ensure himself against plots and coups. Mythology has it that the goddess tried to escape, but was eventually forced to surrender. After she became pregnant, Zeus learned that she was to bear a girl, who would take after him in strength and after her mother in wisdom, and subsequently would bear a son, who would overthrow him. As a preventive measure, much like his father before him, Zeus swallowed the pregnant Metis, and the fetus grew inside his head. At the moment of birth, while suffering great labor pains (terrible headaches, I assume), Zeus summoned Hephaestus the smithing god, who split his head open with an ax, and Athena (Athene) leapt from the crack, clad in armor and fully grown.
Another offspring to whom Zeus gave birth was Dionysus. The god of wine and the grape harvest was born to Zeus and Semele, human daughter of Cadmus, the king of Thebes. Having appeared to Semele in his heavenly form, Zeus's radiance and power were so great that her mortal body could not withstand the sight and she was consumed by it. Zeus pulled the unborn child out of her body. He cut his thigh (or his hip, according to some versions), inserted the fetus, and stitched the wound. Several months later he "delivered" the son.
The gods are gods, and myths are meant to teach us something, but pregnancy, inasmuch as it concerns carrying the fetus in a real body—as opposed to parenthood (an independent issue which feminism has often addressed following Adrienne Rich's distinction, in her landmark book Of Woman Born, between motherhood as an oppressive, restrictive and excluding patriarchal institution and mothering as an experience of growth, creativity, closeness, and bonding)—is possible in human beings only for the biological female body.
Metaphorically, the word "pregnancy" is also used to denote planning and creation. In this context it is rather the male, the man, the patriarch, who benefits. He is the creator, the one "giving birth." This cultural perception is reinforced by Freud, the father of psychoanalysis. Jacques Lacan, who continued Freud's psychoanalytic tradition, alludes to the Oedipal stage, maintaining that when the two Freudian children compare body parts and discover the differences between them, society points at the girl and lets her know that she is missing something. Thus, he maintains, while the penis is the biological organ which some of us possess and others don't, the phallus, which belongs in the realm of the imaginary, is what society signifies as missing in women. As part of the phallocentric-visual discourse, the phallus as a signifier of presence gives the male his status as a subject as well as the proactive ability to create.
Raffi Dayagi is not interested in the mere creative symbolical power of the phallus. He strives to appropriate the process of pregnancy and birth giving into his male body. Over the years his works have addressed personal and social issues pertaining to his own gender and sexual identity as well as to the LGBTQ community in Israel. In the 2007 exhibition "Dragology" (curator: Rachel Sukman), Dayagi sought the female facet of his male identity when he depicted 24 hours in the life of a drag queen. In 2017, in the exhibition "Provocative Art-Light+" (curator: Rachel Sukman), he presented a sculpture entitled Gemini: two winged men with pregnant bellies, and a baby sitting at their feet, still attached to one of them with an umbilical cord. In the current exhibition, "Pregnant Men," Dayagi continues tackling the same theme, which became a burning issue for the local gay community in the past year—the question of giving birth/surrogacy for gay male couples—featuring men who carry before them a pregnant belly. The work process on these paintings included preparation of bellies in different stages of pregnancy, which were then mounted onto the bodies of gay male models. In the next phase, the men were photographed, and subsequently painted in Dayagi's unique hyperrealistic style. Each of the paintings also introduces a "window" to the figures hopes and aspirations; a "bubble" which is yet another layer in the story of pregnancy and birth: whether an Ultrasound of a fetus, the newborn, or a crystal ball for playing/fortunetelling. Dayagi's works convey a yearning for pregnant female existence, and pain for the inability to bring a biological child into the world, a desire which is not necessarily exclusive to men or women, but rather a general human desire.
Although recent years have seen reports of men who conceived babies and gave birth, these were transgender men (who were born as biological females and their gender identity is masculine), who kept their reproductive organs and preserved their ability to give birth. Pregnancy in the body of a biological male has not yet occurred, and for the time being, such an option is a mere utopian assumption.
The exhibition "Pregnant Men" thus introduces the yearning for gay couples to be able to make a family, and Dayagi's paintings carry the signature and aspiration of a gay artist.