A variety of perspectives on the South, created over the past twenty years by eleven prominent artists born in the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Some of them are southern-born and former residents, who regularly return to the Negev as a primary theme in their works.
There is a long-standing tradition of visual portrayals of the Negev and the desert. Often those representations contain a dual attitude towards the open landscapes: on the one hand, ‘primeval vistas’, pure and untouched, imbued with the spirit of the Scriptures, yet on the other ‘arid wastes’ that must be conquered, empty land holding potential for economic development. Exotic fantasies about the Negev, juxtaposed with a settlement ideology, still constitute part of contemporary discourse on the South.
The exhibition reveals other, less evident aspects that intrigue the artists – natural hiding-places of caves, remote archaeological sites, military and detention camps, derelict factories, and marginal populations.
In seeking out the diverse landscapes of the Negev, the artists’ aesthetic curiosity is discernible. Their gaze is never purely documentary, and discoveries help to develop a distinctive formal language, often by deconstructing the image towards abstraction. At the same time, it is an informed, perceptive gaze that is completely aware of the cultural, historical
and political facets of the region – complex worlds that are subtly hinted at.
Work in series typifies some of the artists. It reflects long observations over time, and the search for different embodiments of the same phenomenon. A series encourages the comparison and exploration of relations between the fixed and the changing, between the unique and the general, and between an item in the series and the one that follows. Alongside them the exhibition shows works that capture a single moment, usually a human one, and others that focus on nature’s timeless presence.
More than just a Negev-themed exhibition, ‘Southern Spirit’ invites spectators to look at the width and depth; at something known that is suddenly defamiliarized; at unalloyed beauty concealing traces of pain; at the surface of the ground and the wide skies; at the possibilities offered by the desert light , and shadowy situations. Perhaps more than any other region in Israel, the Negev poses inherent artistic challenges, in which the ideological and the aesthetic, the symbolic and the formal, merge with and interpret each other.
Curator: Dr Dalia Manor
Assistant curator: Nirit Dahan
Eitan Buganim, Yosef Joseph Dadoune, Gilad Efrat, Gaston Zvi Ickowicz, Roi Kuper, Ohad Matalon, Gilad Ophir, Khader Oshah, Michal Rovner, Pavel Wolberg, and Sharon Ya’ari.
Southern Spirit: Aspects of the Negev in Contemporary Israeli Art
Editing and production: Art plus Jerusalem