Twin witches with long black hats, twin women joined at the hip deep in Jewish prayer, and identical women investigating a sexual crime fill the walls of the Janco-Dada Museum in Ein Hod, currently hosting The Secret World of the Introverts. Curated by Izi Itzhak Civre, the 28 ink drawings on display solidify the unique place identical twin sisters Nil and Karin Romano occupy on the Israeli art scene.
Israel had remarkable artists who were also outsiders and wore their own lives as if they were curating an exhibition. For example, the late Honi Hameagel adopted the name of the first-century Jewish mystic, and the poet David Avidan wrote a how-to guide to those who wish to make the most of the night life in Tel Aviv.
The Romano sisters are something brand new. Artists and DJs who often wear identical punk-rock jackets and sweetly speak in one voice as if they are one mind that happens to possess two bodies and four hands and feet, their dark art comes from a pure heart.
“We named our exhibition like that to hint we have a world of fantasy we wish to share with the viewers,” they said, noting that art offers them much needed stability and a “safe space” to inhabit.
“We do not accept commissions,” they told me, “we can only do art we love. We paint from our heart. Our art comes from our inner truths and dreams. For us to do work for someone else will require that their idea fits our own direction.”
The requests pour via their online and social media presence where they share the music they listen to, photos of works in progress and, during the year of the COVID-19 pandemic, held virtual parties where they played their favorite tracks.
The dense drawings are almost chock-full of details and pulse with a dark gravitational pull that attracts the eye and does not let go. The twins are dressed as witches in Puritan-like clothing as they worship, or is it sacrifice? A toad-like deity at the center of a Witches’ Sabbath. In Tell Me Where I am Going, divination methods such as playing cards, astrological signs and the various Divine names used in Jewish mysticism are depicted in an occult-like work the like of which is rarely seen today.
Israel had, and still has, some Western-style occult sub-cultures active in it, beginning with pioneer Zionist filmmaker Margot Klausner with her deep interest in spiritualism, and ending with modern groups who work in the Gurdjieff method. But the Romano sisters introduce a highly stylized “European” style that is very removed from the intense white light usually associated with Israeli painting. Their sensibilities have more in common with the Grand Guignol horror theater in Paris and the dark bats and ghouls painted by Symbolist-Occultist artist Felicien Rops. In some sense, their fascination with this fictional Europe, heavy with Gothic horror, seems almost Japanese, meaning their work at times seems like an anime (Japanese animation) re-telling of a ‘European’ story.
“WE DO NOT paint only things that happen here,” they told The Jerusalem Post, “we are speaking in a global language which is not constrained.” Their working process usually begins with each sister taking a page and drawing ideas. “We then combine these ideas on one page, two brains connecting to one another,” they remark. They worked on this exhibition through the entire year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Civre noted in his writing about the exhibition that “almost every work has a clear center line, a central event stage that balances the right side of the drawing with the left.
“In psychology, symmetry is identified with obsession and narcissism. These works serve the artists as a form of correction, a way to relate to the other, achieve a balance within the chaotic and the psychedelic.”
The Romano twins shared that they enjoyed working with Civre, who was respectful of their needs and gave them the freedom to create. “We began working with ink two-and-a-half years ago,” they confided, noting that their emotional side lends itself more easily to painting, and drawing is, for them, a great way to explore thoughts and ideas.
It should be noted that their art is not suitable for young viewers and, just as Grand Guignol star Paula Maxa became famous for being “the most assassinated woman in the world” [on stage], their works also depict violence, nudity, and a sense of a looming injury.
The exhibition is one of several shows now at the Janco-Dada museum revolving around Black and White, or drawings and outsider-like art.
Hybrid, a large charcoal and acrylic work by Arab-Israeli artist Shadi Twafra, is a splendid contrast to the detail-laden ink drawings of the gifted sisters.
Expensive in its scope (one work, A Child’s Story, was done directly on a wall segment in the museum), the I am Shadi exhibition introduces the visitor to the range of works by the disabled Arab-Israeli artist who first began to paint as part of his therapy.
The naïve-like works are powerful and emotionally moving, with one large portrait presenting a person unable to speak due to a large chain locking his mouth in the 2017 black-pen-on-kappa-board series No to Violence, and a large figure cradling a home in the 2020 charcoal-on-paper series Childhood Home.
The public can also go down a ladder into a dark cave built into the museum floor to enjoy the 2021 animated film Disappearance by Ronit Keret, which uses her previous oil paintings to create a video about the destruction of the world.
The friendly size of the Janco-Dada Museum and the beauty of Ein Hod in springtime make all these exhibitions a wonderful choice for a culture-oriented day trip.
The Black and White group of exhibitions is now being shown at the Janco-Dada Museum. The Romano Sisters will meet members of the public to discuss their work at the exhibition on Friday, April 2, at noon. Please call (04) 984-2350 to ensure the museum is open during your planned visit at or email [email protected] Tickets are NIS 28 for adults and NIS 14 for students/senior citizens/IDF soldiers. Visitors must wear a mask during their visit and maintain social distance.