Adding colors to reality

Although the COVID reality was depressing in general, she had just begun a very joyful time in her life and wanted to express it with colors and many little details added to the reality around her.

 Haya Nussbaum (photo credit: BASIA MONKA)
Haya Nussbaum
(photo credit: BASIA MONKA)

Over the last two years, pictures built of many little colorful elements started to appear on the social media of attorney Haya Nussbaum. 

The time of forced social isolation was the moment when many people started to develop their hobbies and discover their hidden talents. Nussbaum felt stuck at home, and one day she started to draw and paint, with pencils and markers. 

Although the COVID reality was depressing in general, she had just begun a very joyful time in her life and wanted to express it with colors and many little details added to the reality around her.

Nussbaum grew up in Santiago, Chile, in “a typical Jewish home. Not religious, but Jewish.” Every Friday, night the family met at her grandmother’s home for a traditional dinner with Ashkenazi dishes; twice a year, she went with her parents to a synagogue. One of her grandmothers was born in Chile, and the rest of her ancestors went to Chile from Germany just before the war (originally they were from Germany, Poland and Romania). “They managed to escape in 1938,” she says.

Jewish identity was important in her upbringing.

“I had a 100% Jewish life until age 18. For my parents, it was very important that I was connected to the community, so they sent me to the Jewish high school.”

Haya Nussbaum

“I had a 100% Jewish life until age 18. For my parents, it was very important that I was connected to the community, so they sent me to the Jewish high school,” explains Nussbaum. “From a very young age, I was also a member of the youth movement Hashomer Hatzair,” she adds. Together with her family, she often visited relatives in Israel, but she never thought of moving here.

 DISCOVERING HER hidden talent: ‘Roots,’ acrylics on paper.  (credit: Haya Nussbaum) DISCOVERING HER hidden talent: ‘Roots,’ acrylics on paper. (credit: Haya Nussbaum)

Everything changed 10 years ago when she came to Israel for the wedding of a cousin. Already an adult, Nussbaum felt “good vibes” here, and she had thought she should find a professional opportunity in Israel and move over here for a few years. She decided to continue her law education and do her master’s degree at Tel Aviv University, still not planning a permanent move. She just wanted to do something in a different country, and Israel seemed like a natural choice. 

“I was trying to apply for a student visa at the Israeli Embassy in Chile, but there was a long strike in Israel at the governmental offices at that time and they could not issue any visas,” she recalls. So she flew to Israel as a tourist and applied for a student visa in Israel. To her huge surprise, she was told she didn’t need any visa and could request an Israeli passport. Up to 2013, Nussbaum didn’t know she was Israeli! 

“My mother made aliyah when she was very young and lived here for four years. When I was born [in Chile], I was automatically Israeli,” explains Nussbaum. She was so surprised that for a few months she didn’t know what to do. For about half a year she was on hold with her decision and finalization of her formal status. “But when I started to look for an apartment and a job, having the Israeli ID was helpful, so on June 16, 2014, I accepted and received my Israeli ID.” And that is the date she marks as her conscious aliyah day. 

What made her want to stay?

“Having relatives, especially in my first years in Israel, was extremely important. In any crisis I experienced, they were here for me.”

Haya Nussbaum

“Israel gave me a lot of courage,” she says. Besides, she had the support of her local relatives. “Having relatives, especially in my first years in Israel, was extremely important. In any crisis I experienced, they were here for me,” she says. There was always a place for her to go for Shabbat dinner, someone to call when she needed any help. She also quickly made many friends at the university. “In Tel Aviv, I started to feel that I was capable of doing anything that I thought I couldn’t do before,” says the now 40-year-old Nussbaum. She studied in English, but her bar exam, which she passed, was in Hebrew. She was staying in Israel for good. 

ALTHOUGH TEL AVIV was that place that empowered her, in 2017 she moved to the neighboring Ramat Gan, where rent prices were more accessible and the location was closer to her work, as she was already working as a lawyer. 

All this time, she never thought there was any artistic potential inside her. However, she recalls, art was always present in her life. “My mother is an opera singer and an architect,” she explains. Nussbaum had taken art classes at school until age 15, when she decided to focus strictly on getting good grades in order to be accepted to university. Law was her goal since then. And for many years, it was enough for her.

Unexpectedly, in 2020, art came to her triggered by two crucial events: love – meeting her future husband, Igor, three months before the pandemic broke out (he had made aliyah from the FSU as a child in 1991); and the pandemic itself. “Like all of us, I was literally stuck at home; I didn’t know what to do with myself. Igor encouraged me to find a hobby during COVID-19, to use that time for something fun. So I went to a nearby store, bought paper and the cheapest pencils and markers,” she recounts. “That time in my life was – still is – very happy, so I wanted to express it in colors.”

A year later, Nussbaum and Igor got married. It was still during the pandemic. “My parents couldn’t come. They participated via Zoom. The wedding was very small, only 40 guests. It was planned for May 13, 2021, but we had to postpone it for two weeks because of the rocket attacks on Tel Aviv.

“It didn’t make sense to put our guests at risk in a place without a shelter. But all was okay, it’s a part of Israeli life,” she calmly concludes with a smile. Nussbaum takes the full package of being Israeli.

And now she colors the reality she sees around her: “Slowly, I realized how enjoyable painting was for me and how happy the colors made me.” 

Nussbaum’s drawings and paintings are built of many little pieces and details; lines and flowers. She paints from her observations and imagination, often incorporating flowers and abstract colorful elements in female hair, for example. 

“My idea is that it was water, a river in the hair,” she says, pointing to the portrait of a woman with partly blue hair. Nussbaum looks at photographs of random people on the Internet and paints them with additional colors. “Now I am focusing on portraits. But my main interest is still the use of color and mixing of details,” she says. 

In August, she traveled to Ireland with her husband and their baby son, Itay. “We stayed in a beautiful castle. One day, my husband took our baby out for a few hours so I could paint. The room was gray, so I added the flowers on the column (the Roman column was too difficult to draw), and there was a very boring carpet, so I added some color. I changed the color of the sofa, too.” She painted what she saw but added many colorful details to the reality.  

Nussbaum wants to share positive emotions throughout her artwork. “My main inspiration, maybe it will sound kitsch, is my new family: my husband and son. They give me a lot of tranquility, lots of happiness, and I just want to reflect it in colors.” 

Their home in Ramat Gan is trilingual. She speaks to their son in Spanish, and her husband speaks to him in Russian; to each other, they speak in Hebrew. She doesn’t cook traditional food from Chile, but sometimes they eat empanadas – “they’re like [Israeli] burekas, but from Chile,” she explains. 

Having many relatives in Israel, they often meet with them on Friday nights. Her in-laws help with Itay, so she can paint in her free time after work. 

Nussbaum still uses pencils and markers but has also started to paint with watercolors. Recently, in order to learn how to paint with acrylic paints, she attended art classes for adults. Art is her hobby. “But I am very interested in developing [my] art into a business, to sell my paintings as originals or as prints,” she says. Adding immediately: “But I don’t want to leave law. I want them both.”

Asked how she would describe her art, she replies: “Color. Basically, my life is color.”

See more: instagram.com/hayanuez/

Haya Nussbaum, 40 From Santiago, Chile, to Tel Aviv/Ramat Gan, 2014