Time of the twins – the bewitching art of the Romano sisters

New exhibit blends occult paintings and personal images.

An occult paintings by the Romano sisters    (photo credit: Courtesy)
An occult paintings by the Romano sisters
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When one sets foot inside Beit Ha’ir to visit the new exhibition “Beseeching the Goddess,” one’s eyes encounter a cascading waterfall of blond hair flowing from the unseen top floor of the building.
Created by Maya Agam, Lucy presents a large video screen with a model that seems to be engulfed in hair. The focus on female hair becomes both a reference to fairy-tale motives such as Rapunzel, a woman trapped in a tower who must use her hair to aid a man to rescue her, and the recent 2010 Disney film Tangled, which offered a lighter take on the tale.
Porcelain sets placed on the lush hair and the odd vibe to the work might bring to mind slightly darker themes, such as the trickster god Loki stealing Sif’s hair in the Nordic legends, and even trichophilia, the erotic attraction to long hair.
Curated by Michal Sever and Koral Dvir, who also released the feminist art zine Kama as part of this exhibition, the collected works explore the power of the female element with reference to the old goddesses and monsters, such as Athena and Medusa, and include beautiful and strange fruits and cabbages that seem to be made from flesh and transgress the boundary of the real, created by Roni Landa in Very Still Life, not to mention, in a dark room, the hypnotic paintings of self-taught artists Nil and Karin Romano.
LIKE TWIN goth fairies they appear at the gallery to sweetly discuss their works, completing each other’s sentences and even touching a few works lovingly.
“They are like our babies,” they explain.
Since they create together and speak together, this article will present their statements as collective, without attributing them to one or the other. In that sense, they are a great deal like the British artists Gilbert and George, who live together, wear identical suits, and coined the phrase “Art for All.”
The Romano sisters, unlike the British duo, are twins. Humanity has been deeply curious about twins and their unique relationships since prehistory, as, unlike most humans, a twin is not alone in the world.
Identical twins have been the subject of many studies. While nobody has been able to prove a direct mental link between twins in the sense of thought transfer, it has been widely accepted that, if raised together, twins are able to develop their own secret codes. Usually, this is no more sinister than an attempt to bypass teachers and parents, but it can give others not in on how it is done a fright, as it seems the twins are of one mind.
“We usually use eye movements to signal to each other,” they explain.
Snake Charmers by the Romano sisters SOURCE: Hagay Hacohen Snake Charmers by the Romano sisters SOURCE: Hagay Hacohen
Beginning with the massive Snake Charmers, which depicts them in the nude, dancing with large snakes, the exhibited works function like tracks in a concept album or scenes from a visually powerful film.
The Romano sisters love music and spend some of their time playing it as DJs around Europe. The dance is charged, but not sexual; and as they wear the snakes around their necks, it is unclear whether they spew them out or are kept silent by them. Their eyes, in this very dramatic scene, are turned inward into a mental reality not shown to us. The work might bring to mind, in a space devoted to the old gods and the new, the biblical male god killing the sea goddess Tiamat, or the rock legend Jim Morrison singing “Ride the snake/To the lake” in “The End.”
Painted in acrylics in long, grueling sessions during which the two worked with almost no breaks until their vision left their imaginations and found a home on the material plane, the scenes include wolves, bats and spiders – usually associated with the dark occult forces of European visual cultures. Nuns are depicted, so are burning hearts and witches, giving the room a thick atmosphere of arcane art, not unlike what one might have expected to find when entering the Grand Guignol horror theater in interwar Paris.
Speaking about the snakes, the twins say they are connected to “our fears,” as this exhibition is “diving into deep waters” for them. While they have been making art for years, this is the first time they are showing their works on such a large scale and exposing themselves to the larger public.
Much celebrated in the underground community, they greatly appreciate the curators for investing such faith in them and their unique vision. The works selected were chosen while having a “respectful, sensitive dialogue with us,” they say. “They were always there for us,” the twins share, “and were a joy to work with.”
As the paintings are extremely personal and depict nudity, a less sensitive curator might have been tempted to sensationalize the exhibition. Instead, Sever and Dvir present an intimate language shaped by two women who must create art to live.
“We see the human soul as complex, infinitely so,” they say. “Our art is not afraid to show even painful truths. We want the audience to feel something, to move something, to offer people a path to a real sensation.”
The Romano Sisters maintain an online presence on Instagram as _blackorchids_ and enjoy followers from around the world. Beseeching the Goddess will be on display until June 7 at Beit Ha’ir, 27 Bialik Street, Tel Aviv. https://beithair.org