Israeli photographer Adi Nes, who famously turned Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last
Supper into a scene in an army mess hall, has returned with a new body of work,
shot in the Jezreel Valley and called The Village, showing in three simultaneous
exhibits in Tel Aviv, Paris and New York starting this month.
includes images of kibbutz members working the land, dramatic moments in the
life of a family, a young man, alone, with a horse and a choir singing together.
The colors are rural, light and dark, the scenes Biblical and echoing of a Greek
tragedy, all against the backdrop of the labor Zionist vision. Nes intentionally
made the time period ambiguous and environment dreamlike.
like the one of the boy stand in contrast to photographs of the collective, and
express an underlying tension between public and private life on the kibbutz,
between individual dreams and communal dreams, conforming and standing out, and
open and closed spaces. Still, all seems idyllic, the sky is bright blue and the
land is green and white. But passion and secrets lurk
“Behind the surface the atmosphere is very charged,” says
Nes in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post ahead of the shows’ opening.
“The village maybe tells the story of Israel today.”
In one shot, a few
young men negotiate about a goat with an older man whose hands are raised in
despair, which Nes, who was born in 1966 to Iranian immigrants and raised in
Kiryat Gat, a development town in the Negev, says represents the next generation
on the kibbutz selling away their property as their social environment crumbles
Nes, who recently moved from Jaffo to the Jezreel Valley
with his partner and four children, photographed in different villages and
kibbutzim, sometimes indoors and sometimes in familiar outdoor areas to capture
the well-known orchards and landscape for which the valley where the Israelites
fought the Philistines is known.
He began researching for the project
five years ago, soon after he wrapped his series “Biblical stories” (2003-2006).
His other critically acclaimed series are of marginalized populations: mainly
Sephardi soldiers (1994- 2000), Sephardi boys (2000) and prisoners (2003). Nes
takes classic scenes from art history and the Bible and combines them with his
own life experiences growing up as a gay youth on the periphery of Israeli
In all of his projects the viewer can see the issues of Israeli,
Jewish, racial and sexual identity that Nes is working through. During his
youth, Nes recalls feeling different from his peers and trying to hide his
cultural identity. At the same time, he yearned to be part of the group, was
active in the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair and admired kibbutz
In the Soldiers series, the viewer feels the same tension
between public life and private life, as some soldiers are shot alone, while
many are shot in hearty communal scenes.
“In many cases you feel the
tension between these two parts of my personality in my art,” he says. “On the
one hand you feel part of the group, the nation, the narrative, the dream, but
on the other hand you can criticize it.”
You can admire the soldier or
the kibbutznik, but criticize him at the same time.
“When I went to the
army suddenly I felt that I was proud,” Nes says. “For me, the Israeli army was
still the big melting pot of the Israeli society, like it was called in those
days. I felt very proud to serve in the army, to find a place in the
Nes, known for generally working with real people (he seldom uses
professional models or actors) in staged scenes, or digitally manipulating his
images, traces in the Soldiers series the universal Israeli experiences in the
army, the feelings of closeness and group unity, showing soldiers sleeping
together and napping alone, urinating outdoors and in battle. He also explores
meanings behind Israeli masculinity, as the buff, tan soldiers show off their
muscles, roughhouse in the water and wrestle.
He says the benefit of
working with real people is his ability to capture genuine emotion and
authenticity. The chorus photo in the Village was staged after Nes took the
portrait of another group of people singing together and staged his models to
resemble that group, to resemble a real chorus. In another Village photo, a male
soldier appears overcome with emotion. That was no act, Nes says.
into this moment when I worked with him.”
In response to claims that the
Soldiers series is quite homoerotic, Nes agrees, but says that homoeroticism
exists in every place in which men are together, including the army, sports and
in the street, and everyone will understand what he wants to from the same
“I’m not a provocative or controversial person,” he says. “I’m
trying to express myself... it’s presented in a way that you will find empathy
or you will recognize the identity of the other and then you will recognize the
identity of yourself. What is the basis of a strong nation if not to recognize
ourselves and our neighbors? It starts from there.”
A print of Last
Supper (1999), part of the Soldiers series which is hanging in the Israel Museum
in Jerusalem, sold at auction at Sotheby’s for $102,000 in 2005, and another for
$264,000 in 2007.
His decision to use the soldier as a protagonist came
out of his desire to explore the central place of the army in Israeli identity,
and also out of his disturbance at the time that people had forgotten those
killed during the Lebanon War, which began when Nes was 18.
“I wanted to
bring them back to the front of the stage,” he says. “I wanted them to be the
heroes of my cultural project.”
In the Boys series, Nes drew from
childhood, a time when he recalls questioning his identity.
“I think my
art is composed of all the layers that exist in my personality. In my
personality they can live in peace and I think in my art also.”
Village’ is running at the Gallery Praz Delavallade in Paris, the Jack Shainman
Gallery in New York and the Sommer Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv from May 31-July