Balance and unbalance

Named after Brigitte Bardot, the artistic aura accompanied her from “day one” of her life.

 BRIGITTE NAHON, 61: Nice to New York – Bat Yam, 2008 (photo credit: Courtesy Brigitte NaHoN)
BRIGITTE NAHON, 61: Nice to New York – Bat Yam, 2008
(photo credit: Courtesy Brigitte NaHoN)

Brigitte NaHoN (Nahon) always had three dreams: to find balance in life and in art; to become an “American artist,” and to live in Israel. NaHoN is a sculptor, and as an artist, she looks for balance in her sculptures. She lived in New York for 15 years, and in 2006 she received American citizenship “due to the art,” she says proudly. Two years later, in July 2008, she made aliyah.

NaHoN was born in Nice to a Tunisian modern Orthodox family. Her parents, both of Sephardi descent, moved to France in 1956. Brigitte’s grandparents were Greek (from the Ottoman Empire), Italian, Tunisian and Egyptian Jews. She grew up in a very Zionist home, where her parents were involved in the local Jewish community. 

“My mother was very active in B’nai B’rith Lodge Côte d’Azur. My father was the president of this organization, and of Radio Chalom Nitzan. He was also a member of an association helping Jewish people in need, the treasurer of the Consistoire [Council] of Nice,” says NaHoN. 

When she was six, she started attending Talmud Torah. Together with her sister, they were also members of various Jewish youth organizations, such as Scouts, DEJJ (a French Jewish association for teenagers), Bnei Akiva, and B’nai B’rith Lodge Golda Meir.

Aliyah for the entire family was just a matter of time. NaHoN decided to move to Israel as the last in the family, in 2008. “I came to visit Israel for the first time in 1986 and I realized it will be very hard to be an artist here,” she says. (She put it on hold for another two decades.)

 NEW IMMIGRANTS from North America receive a shofar’s welcome upon arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport on a special ‘aliyah flight’ on behalf of Nefesh B’Nefesh.  (credit: FLASH90) NEW IMMIGRANTS from North America receive a shofar’s welcome upon arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport on a special ‘aliyah flight’ on behalf of Nefesh B’Nefesh. (credit: FLASH90)

NaHoN says that she had no other choice but to become an artist. The artistic aura accompanied her from “day one” of her life. She was named after Brigitte Bardot (“my father was in love with her,” she says). 

In the hospital where she was born, a Flemish woman in the same room as Brigitte’s mother wrote a poem to the baby Brigitte about her and the Belgium poet of the same surname: Alice Nahon. Today, the 61-year-old sculptor says it was “like a touch by the magic wand,” which she received as a baby.

Her first attempts at sculpting started in her early childhood, as a way of therapy rather than art. At around age three, she stopped talking suddenly, for half a year. She was given modeling clay for children. She could not stop playing with it, and sculpting became her way of expressing herself. Even when she began speaking again, her manual ways of communicating with the world stayed with her.

NaHoN recalls that at school she was good at mathematics and science, and she could have gone also in that direction, but she knew she really wanted to study art. Consequently, she did. NaHoN holds two master’s degrees in fine arts from Provence University and La Sorbonne in Paris (France).

In her twenties and early thirties, she lived in Paris, and was “a promising artist,” she says. Her name was not anonymous in France; she was working, taking part in exhibitions, and receiving awards in important contests. 

BUT IN the back of her mind there was still a teenage dream of becoming an American artist. The opportunity to fulfill the dream came in 1994, when she won the Villa Médicis hors les murs [a French study grant awarded by the French Association for Artistic Action, the Foreign Ministry, and the Culture Ministry]. The grant, apart from the money, provided her with a one-year artist’s visa and a large art studio in New York.

The money, which was supposed to cover her living expenses in New York, was almost all spent to cover the debts in Paris. “Like many artists, I was broke, so that money really helped,” she says. “I went to New York with $200 in my pocket. I didn’t know anyone. I rented a tiny room without windows, but I was happy.”

But, besides the excitement of going to America, there was also bitterness in leaving France, because of the growing antisemitism there. 

“Jean–Marie Le Pen was getting stronger,” says NaHoN, “and I experienced an antisemitic physical assault, just before going to New York in 1994, at the cocktail party after my exhibition in Nice.” 

She was surrounded by friends, and no one reacted to the attack. The indifference of her friends was even more painful than the attack. “Leaving France officially for a year, I knew I would never go back there.”

NaHoN, although successful in France, was unknown in New York and she had to start everything all over again. She had no connections and no money, but was very goal-oriented. She became a workaholic, she says. She had to be also very creative. 

“In France, I was making sculptures in steel, but in America, in the beginning, I could not afford it, so I started to make sculptures out of thread.” That cheap material gave her many options. Now, it’s one of her brand media.

Apart from thread, she works in steel, stone, wood, crystal, glass, Plexiglas and even water. Sometimes she chooses the material, sometimes the choice is based on the economic possibilities of the moment. 

Her works oscillate between very small and monumental. She is fascinated with transparency and reflections. The main mutual component is their topic, the search for balance and what she calls “unbalance.” 

“I use the artistic mediums, also drawing and sometimes painting, to show privileged moments of life when everything is balanced with an infinity of possibilities,” she explains. Besides sculptures and drawings, she makes jewelry.

NaHoN, in her career of nearly 40 years, had numerous solo and group exhibitions. Her works are part of public and private collections worldwide, including Tel Aviv, Seoul, Moscow, Paris, New York City, Rio de Janeiro, London and more. She also received several commissions to create and install permanent or temporary monumental sculptures.

These include “HOMMAGE” at Mikve Israel in Holon; “Ténor, la Marche vers la Vie” in Monte-Carlo Gardens, Principality of Monaco; “Dancing Reeds” at Progressive Inc. in Mayfield, Ohio; “Le Passage” on Les Champs-Elysées in Paris; “La Fontaine aux Roseaux d’argent” at the Cluny Museum – the National Museum of the Middle Ages, Thermes de Cluny in Paris; “Equilibrium” at The New Courtyard of The City of Avignon; and “HONNA” at E.D.F. Electricité de France in Saint-Denis. 

THE HARD work paid off. But there was still the third dream on her list.

NaHoN stayed in New York for 15 years. Although living in the US, she hadn’t forgotten about her Zionist upbringing. While there, she was in touch with Jewish organizations. It was during her time in the US that she decided to emphasize in her family name the proper Hebrew pronunciation, in the way it is spelled now: NaHoN. 

“In France they did not say it right, so when there was a chance to change it, I put in capital letters H and N”, she says, “This way there is a balance in it visually, and in the meaning: right, correct.” 

But, to find the balance in life, she needed to rejoin her family in Israel. 

In 2006, she received American citizenship and two years later she made aliyah through Nefesh B’Nefesh. “Living in Israel is not easy, but it is such a joy to feel in the right place,” she says. 

NaHoN explains that when she was visiting Israel as an American artist, it was easier to be accepted in Israel than as a local artist here. She finds even more challenges in Israel than back in ’94 in New York, because the art world is much smaller here, and she feels it makes it harder to stand up.

But, despite the difficulties, after 14 years in Israel (almost as long as her American life), she is still content that she moved here. “There is a different rhythm here. There are holidays, time for relatives and family.”

NaHoN has lived in several different cities in Israel; last year she settled in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv. Her apartment is filled with drawings, and transparent and intensively blue models of her sculptures. Her 12-year-old dog Ofi (“Ofi means ‘personality’ in Hebrew, and she has a strong one,” smiles NaHoN) welcomes everyone at the door. Brigitte NaHoN feels at home in Israel. She found the balance that she was always looking for. ■

More about the artist:

BRIGITTE NAHON, 61Nice to New York – Bat Yam, 2008