By Georgina Kolber, Curator of Exhibits, Programs and Collections
Internationally lauded Israeli photographer Adi Nes is represented by galleries in New York, Paris and Tel Aviv, and exhibits in Europe, the US and Israel. We’ll visit his Tel Aviv studio as part of our Off the Beaten Track: Art & Culture Trip to Israel.
Born in Israel to Sephardic Jews who emigrated from Iran, Nes’s photography reflects his self-described ‘outsider’ perspective. He explains that he’s an outsider in Israel, a country that was forged by people who, during two millennia of diaspora, were outsiders. Nes remembers his mother singing to him when he was a child growing up in the Israeli development city Kiryat Gat. Often, the lyrics told idealized tales of the pioneers of modern day Israel. Even at an early age, it was clear to him that his dark skinned family and friends did not match this ideal of the Ashkenazi Jew. He explains, “When Israel was established, pioneers wanted to create an image of a man that is very different than the weak Jew from the diaspora,” he said. “The kids that lived in the villages that surrounded Kiryat Gat fit the idea of what was Zionist.”
As he grew up, he searched for a place to belong. To complicate matters, Nes knew he was gay and always felt a little like a stranger in a mainstream Israeli culture that he saw as promoting the ideal of the macho Israeli settler or soldier.
His photography reflects all of this—he’s most known for those images that explore issues of identity, masculinity and war. His photographic style is of the tableau vivant form, in which a scene is carefully constructed with posed characters or actors. Nes’s most recent series The Village (shown at left and below) is a playful and moody example of the tableau vivant form.
He says the Village is like a dream that is bigger and better than life but also has “a layer of fears and horrors and things that are bad. The country (Israel) started with a dream, and then more and more, we decided to ignore the dreams. I’m trying to bring myself back to the dream without forgetting the reality.”
There is also an overlay of Greek tragedy in Nes’s village. “There is a specific routine in every Greek tragedy. Someone is doing something in his life, repeats the sin of pride, of hubris, then he’s punished and he suffers. And the moment he suffers, this is the moment that he’s changed, or the viewer of the tragedy is changed” Nes’s appropriation of classical and biblical figures and scenes reflects his scholarship in art history and bible studies. Many of the characters in his photos are contemporary representations of Abraham and Isaac, Cain and Abel, Ruth and Naomi, and Job. (Image from his bible series shown below)
Of his work, Nes says that there isn’t one singular correct interpretation of an image—“If you are looking from inside Israel, you will see a different thing than if you are looking from outside. If you are looking from a political point of view, you will find one answer. If you look from the historical point of view, or the Holocaust point of view, or from Europe or the US, you’ll find different answers”
Our group will be in the fortunate position of spending time with and hearing more from this fascinating artist in March.
There’s still time to register for Off the Beaten Track: Art & Culture Tour to Israel; learn more here