Longing, Be-Longing | Ras Al Khaimah Art Festival, UAE
The Ras Al Khaimah Art Festival 2022 has invited me to be an international judge for this year's Festival and to curate, as a guest curator, an Israeli Contemporary Art exhibition. The exhibition took place in Bayt 5, one of the central houses composing the amazing Heritage Village of Al Jazeera Al Hamra, where the festival took place.
The exhibition aims, on one hand, to reveal the wide range of identities and their complexity, composing the Israeli Mosaic of people. On the other hand, it tries to trace the oriental "Longing", or Belonging without the "Be", reflected from Israeli artists who descent from Arab countries. In addition, non-Jewish artists are participating in this exhibition. Their reflection is different and often based on their identity as Arabs living in a Jewish environment.
The story of modern Israeli art began with the visual identity of the "Jew" during the period of Western emancipation and democratization, in the 19th century. Even though most of the European Jews were born in Europe, they were perceived as physically related to Eastern countries, as Semites who don't belong to Europe. The western perception of the Jews was similar to what the Palestinian intellectual Edouard Said (1935-2003) called, "Orientalism": an invented arrogant way to portray the Orient, that suits the western colonialist narrative.
In his critical book "Orientalism" (1978), Said defined all those intellectuals, artists, and Western writers as inventors of the Eastern spirit who were mostly portrayed as weak and aggressive to emphasize Western "superiority".
The Orientalists, especially in the British and French visual arts, view the Orient as a spiritual place, the land of origins, where the triadic monotheistic religions were born, a romantic place where all beauty smells Oriental perfumes: on the one hand barbaric and dangerous and the other feminine, sexual, soft and striving for the sublime beauty.
Jews from North Africa in particular played a key role as models to the 19th-century Orientalist paintings. The Jewish women paused to their paintings. The imagery of the Oriental women was mostly constructed by Jewish women pausing for European painters. Does Orientalism have any influence on visual art in Israeli contemporary art?
With the establishment of the State of Israel and the migration of most Jews to it from the Maghreb and the Middle East, those cultures were assimilated into the Israeli melting pot that aspired to create one new post-Diaspora Jewish identity. The second and third generations of these Eastern migrants, including artists among them, were influenced and greatly inspired by their parents' stories about that East.
A post-oriental cultural interpretation of those generations was created. These artists didn't live in those Oriental cultures, and therefore their approach is of fantasy and longing, similar to how the Orientalists had created the image of the Middle East. Those Israeli artists of Eastern background felt a need to express their identity and culture instead of the new melting pot syndrome.
Participation artists: Raida Adon, R'm Aharoni, Gil Desiano Bitton, Joseph Yossef Dadoune, Mati Elmaliach, Eyal Segal, Dafna Shalom, Tal Shochat, Ariel Van Straten, Ameera Zeyan
Photography by: Ariel Van Straten, Sharon Toval