PAINTINGS OF SAND
by Vittoria Coen
………."It seemed as if the arid landscape around the Kibbutz did not frighten him, in fact, sometimes he went to walk with Ya’el on the hills, and it appeared that he very much loved contemplating that desert panorama”… AbrahamYehoshua Since the time in which Barbara Nahmad did portraits of true historical and cultural icons, along with the stars of international cinema, this artist has worked on the deep analysis of subjects, from an esthetic point of view, but also, and especially, from a psychological one. To do this, she began with a photograph (from more or less recent magazines) which she was able to reanimate with her painting. The most in depth investigation of a subject, thus, was dug out with a paintbrush with the result of a renewed vitality of an evergreen memory. For the occasion of her personal exhibition entitled Canto General, in fact, I wrote that:“Barbara Nahmad does not shy away from her obligations, she makes her characters come to life as if they were all alive and present. But she captures the depth starting from the pages of a newsmagazine”. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Primo Levi, but also Mao, Elvis Presley, and the indestructible Marilyn, through the eyes of the artist, are freed by their historic Pop revisitation and they have regained their vitality. They come back, then, to life while the artist has brushed the dust of time off them. The chromatic audacity of the background does its part, making the faces, the stars, the personal life of each subject alive and aggressively interesting. It occurs to me that the entire artistic experience of Barbara Nahamd, up until now, has been conceived around the common thread of memory. Her work appears metaphorically as a chorus, with many voices. The subject was photographed, thus it has already been filtered through someone else's interpretation...then comes the artist, with the double vision of distance and at the same time repossession. Nahmad, also in this exhibition Eden, lost and found paradise, rebuilds the image that captured her attention, this time linked to the return to Israel after the birth of the new State, capturing, in the realism of the immortalized moment, all of the great push to live and to build, brick by brick, struggle after struggle, a life. She does this by telling of her origins, her family, her father, her mother and grandfather... along with men, women, children and unknown elderly people, but linked by the same expectations. Life is simple, but hard, modest and grandiose, the smiles, gestures and little habits, the world of childhood, the love of a couple, the love for a new land, life and the days. It is the artist herself that responded, in an interview a while back for ArtsLife done by Cristiana Curti: … “I began to "subtract", in the search for a cleanliness and an essentialness that I needed: I gave up the sheen, which was my artistic signature. I removed the clean lines which was my other atòut. I subtracted the incisiveness of the perfect form. I rarefied the subjects, I lightened the canvas, which had become redundant. I made the scene, however, more complex and intricate, because now I start with old magazines distributed by the Israeli State in the 1950s to promote immigration of new families.” Barbara Nahmad has arrived at this important experience born out of an exhibition in Tel Aviv, which continued in Milan and is now here in Bologna, after much research into themes which are also very different from one another, such as the interventions created in the installation Allarmi, Le tavole della protesta…..Reportage translated into poetry. Then, from the portraits of movie stars and historic and cultural figures, presented to us in print or on television, in this Eden faces familiar to the artist and unknown people seen on the pages of magazines appear like protagonists in fragments of a new life. And even if we do not know them, it seems as if we have always seen them, that they have been a part of our existence and our memory; they take on a familiarity that surprises us, in a simple and immediate way. This time, however, the Pantone colors, the reds and greens in the background, have given way to mostly ochre, sometimes interrupted by whites or blacks, in particular in the delightful series of small boxes created specifically for this museum show, which I was able to see a few days ago in the artist's studio in the Navigli in Milan. The painting is preserved in its entirety, but in a monochrome dimension from which paintings that seem to be made of sand have come. The images are collected in fragments, to which the artist has applied little pearls of a necklace so dear to her, that of her childhood. Paintings, signs, overlapping, make these little works truly lived, lived in, like old family jewels kept in a chest. The impression is that here color is not needed to highlight but rather to lovingly engulf the gazes and destinies that we see in these life experiences that history has generated. Children play, they go to school, the old man sitting with his forehead resting on his hand, and again, boys on an armored vehicle, girls posing like models, motherly hugs, and men working…just a few of the instances in which the background is suspended, barely suggested, as in a child's drawing, subjects, furniture, armored vehicles, washbasins and landscapes. The history and the chronicle in the background, what really counts is humanity, totally concentrated on the building of a state through collective mobilization. The images told of by Nahmad are full of participation, they are evocative and realistic at the same time. The charm of ochre and grays, of shadows and sudden bursts of light emphasize the intensity of life through the various faces, their expressions in hardship, sometimes in the sacrifices of a spartan life but incredibly projected towards the future. There is a comprehensible beauty in all of this, the meaning can be felt even by those who have not experienced it directly. The artist has the task of focusing, on the details and poses when they are present, or, on the spontaneity of certain gestures and smiles equally present. And as Barbara Nahmad said, the act of subtracting, the mystery, make signs blossom out of nothing, where the shadows of bodies are well defined on the ground; a particular suggestion is created in which the relationship between space and time is the turning point in her work. The adventure of change, even in a coherent style, represents growth, a further enrichment in a poetry already quite complex and very articulate. Nahmad, a woman and artist of her time, has studied the world and time that she tells of in depth, in a certain sense, she went back over her steps in a reconstruction of indisputable intellectual honesty. She must be given recognition for this, for having made art, together with history, "politics", thought, the sum total of a work that lives, breathes, speaks and that refuses the generalizations and superficiality of stereotypes which it is decidedly shunning.
by Vincenza Maugeri, Director, Jewish Museum of Bologna
The Jewish Museum of Bologna (MEB), is now a cultural and distinctive center for art, history and Jewish culture for people of all background and its programming also includes relevant temporary exhibitions of significant artists. The Museum is therefore proud to host the works of the well-known contemporary artist Barbara Nahmad. The exhibition EDEN previously hosted in Tel Aviv, Como and Milan, is now in Bologna and it is the main event of the European Nights of Museums, which is the most relevant event of MEB’s seasonal programming. EDEN is about the early Fifties in Israel and it gently invites its visitors to an unprejudiced reflection on a period we know little about. Barbara Nahmad’s works capture and show moments of everyday life in cities, schools, roads, kibbutz at the edge of the desert, combining them with more intimate images of a world which was actually very young. Israel of that time, was a world full of youngsters, barefoot kids playing at school or in streets, on the sand or in the desert, emblems of pure life and imagination. A new-born reality. The very personal evocative style of Nahmad, an evocative painting which gives great importance to the softness of the shapes, with no hyper realistic insistence, emerges on her thirty-five works, some in large scale, hosted in this exhibition. “Paintings of sand”: is the precious definition given by Vittoria Coen in her valuable essay, which introduces the catalogue; you could also see them as the works along "the heart route" as the artist captures inspiration from old books and memories, family photos and magazines of those so pioneering times, with people’s looks sometimes so languid, but most often of great realism . We wish this exhibition could be both an aesthetic experience and a food for thought on history, an experience of knowledge of complex issues, able to emphasize on unexpected connections too.