Joseph Dadoune contemplates the question of authenticity. “If one decides to
create Art, what should one’s reference points be?” We are standing in the
gutted interior of Ofakim’s long-abandoned cinema hall, its still-evident
grandeur replaced by rubble and celluloid crackling underfoot.
argue that with globalism, the reference points are now all global, no longer
regional,” he continues.
“In the art institutions of Israel, the
reference points are European or American-oriented.
“But I live in
Israel,” he says. “These cannot be my reference points. It is not my
Dadoune beckons me on, to continue our impromptu tour of his home town
site of his latest – and perhaps most important – artistic
Dadoune, it should be pointed out, is hardly short of
either the inspiration for his creative output or a stage on which to
it. A photographer and video artist, his work has been featured in
exhibitions across Europe and the United States over the last decade;
noted work to date is 2007’s Sion
Partly filmed at the Louvre in Paris,
the 60-minute film is a powerful allegorical contemplation of Jerusalem
features actress Ronit Alkabetz as a wraith-like image of the city
through the ages.
The film was inspired by what Dadoune noted is a
surprising gap in the world-renowned museum’s permanent Mediterranean
exhibition, which lacks any consideration of Hebraic culture and
within its permanent exhibition.
Widely praised in Israel – where it
featured in Dadoune’s solo exhibition at the Petah Tikva Museum of Art
in 2007 –
and abroad, Sion
was screened at the Kunst Palast in Dusseldorf, the
Sie Gallery in Texas, and at the Louvre itself.
Dadoune’s quest for
authenticity and verity in his work has brought him to his home, Ofakim.
year, he embarked on an ambitious five-year project, as much an art
as an exercise in community cohesion and development. Dadoune has a
the authentic roots of art, a theory intimately connected to his present
location and one that he explains as we continue our tour around
“My neighbors are Arab, from North Africa. My neighbors, my
family, are working people, working class,” he tells me, “and also, I am
“I have a different vision of the dominant reference point. I want
to create an esthetic vision that is connected to my environment.”
suggesting that to be genuinely authentic, artistic expression must
its social context, rather than be based on a primary preoccupation with
It is probably fair to describe Ofakim, 20
kilometers west of Beersheba, as a place that everyone knows about, but
many people actually know. The social history of the city is well
It was founded in 1955 as a development town, part of David
Ben-Gurion’s vision to populate and develop the Negev. The city’s first
residents were immigrants from North Africa, India, Iran and eastern
followed soon afterward by migrants from Egypt; in the 1980s, its
boosted by a new wave of immigration, mainly from the former Soviet
For many years, economic and social life in Ofakim was
anchored to the once-flourishing textile industry, which provided both
employment and a sense of community to much of the town’s population of
But the textile industry crisis of the 1980s and 1990s – prompted
in part by the pressures created by competition from the Far East and
ironic consequence of globalization – forced the closure of the large
plants. Combined with the influx of new immigrants, this had a
impact on the local community, the effects of which are still felt
Income levels in Ofakim are among the lowest in Israel; since
2006, the town has been administered in lieu of an elected mayor by
Greengold, an appointee of the Ministry of Interior, who inherited a
deficit of NIS 20m. when he took up the position.
facts add up to a rather bleak picture.
But Dadoune argues that this is
an incomplete portrait; and it is one that he hopes to reshape through
long-term project in Ofakim, “In the Desert.”
Scheduled to run the course
of five years, “In the Desert” – named after Bamidbar
, the Hebrew name
Numbers, the fourth book of the Penateuch, – is an ambitious project
deeper than a preoccupation with esthetics and form in its intent to
social and documentary stance within the city.
Dadoune argues that art
has the capacity to engender discussion and raise awareness.
intention is to use a social and an artistic agenda to give a voice to
periphery and its cultural life,” he says. He is careful to stress that
not propose to be seen as an instigator or nurturer of this voice; his
says, is as a facilitator. “I’m just the technical operator,” he
The artistic component of “In The Desert” will eventually comprise
the production of two films, video works and a photography project. The
film to be produced under this umbrella, a short film simply entitled
was premiered at the end of May.
Largely silent, it is a metaphorical
consideration of the position of the town within the wider
debate in Israel. It features a group of young people carrying a large
through the town, referencing significant landscapes along the way and
eventually withdrawing completely from the town’s precincts and
into the landscape.
Their burden – and their reaction to it – seems to
symbolize many things: the weight of seemingly futile expectation that
labor under; the continuing threat, in common with many other Negev
from Kassam rockets; commentary on the detached relationship between the
and the nearby air force base; and, ultimately, the Sisyphean struggle
articulate the fears of the young generation to older members of their
The 10 participants in the film were local residents,
adolescents drawn from a cross-section of Ofakim’s population:
residents from North Africa, first-generation immigrants from the former
Ethiopia. Dadoune ran auditions in local schools.
“I went to the schools
to explain to (the teenagers) that I wanted to use the project to
Dadoune describes a wariness at first. “It’s a reflection of the
trend of people wanting to leave their surroundings, to actualize
elsewhere because they believe that what they want to do will be better
elsewhere rather than here.”
But he persevered, and was eventually able
to win them over. The clincher was being able to demonstrate that the
was “not about turning Ofakim into another Tel Aviv, but rather to allow
grow and develop from within its own identity,” Dadoune explains.
film itself was filmed in three days, after six months of preparation
workshops in dance and yoga, activities that are intended to be
community resources for the duration of the project.
As we continue
walking toward the outer limits of the town, Dadoune tells me about his
He was born in Nice in 1975, and immigrated to Israel with his
mother when he was five; he still lives in the small flat he grew up in,
Orthodox quarter of the city. Educated at a local yeshiva, he considers
largely a self-taught artist. But he cites the strong role that his
played in his maturation as an artist.
We arrive at the very edge of the
town, at a small sheep farm where some of the scenes of Sion were shot.
points across the landscape, beyond the fields to where the browning
begins to blend with the late afternoon sky.
“Look at the colors,” he
says. “Look at the landscape. It has value… it has meaning for
Beyond the collaborative work, Dadoune hopes to establish a lasting
legacy from the project within Ofakim, in the form of an open studio and
community center. Fittingly, the intention is to house it in one of the
abandoned textile factories, a reference to the past as well as an
forge a new future.
Plans have been drawn up, incorporating an art
studio, shared communal work areas and a small cinema and viewing
The intention is to utilize it as an open artistic space for the
community, hosting literary evenings and poetry readings, forums and
performances, an incubator for the the creation of geographically and
Dadoune tells me that he has spent a year working
with architects and business consultants; the next step is to attempt to
the necessary funding. he doesn’t know if he will succeed, but remains
“now, it exists, it is no longer a vague idea. if politics and
finances get in the way…” Dadoune shrugs. “the most important thing is