Demons come alive at night

Artist Elia Zimand’s second exhibition of paintings takes inspiration from her time in Africa and love of Jewish texts.

A selection of Elia Zimand’s ‘Demons' 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
A selection of Elia Zimand’s ‘Demons' 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli-born artist Elia Zimand came into the world amid chaos and a war. She was born in 1969 on the same day that her mother’s brother Elie died, and she was named after him. This started Zimand – whose latest exhibition, “Demons,” opens next month – on a lifelong fascination with pregnancy and death.
When her father was transferred to work in Africa and her mother did not want to leave, the two divorced.
Zimand began visiting her father on the Ivory Coast at the age of nine and fell in love with Africa.
“When I was older, around 13, I didn’t want to leave Africa. Every time, I would stay there for one or two years,” she says.
While attending an international school, she made it a point to learn about the culture and understand the people. At around this time, she took her first and only formal art class, photography.
“I used to take photographs in Africa; I would learn it in class,” she recalls. “But at night I had problems, I couldn’t sleep, so I would do drawings.”
She learned from her father how to identify the different tribes, normally by the color of the feathers they wore on their heads. Though she would draw, it would be a long time before she shared her art.
Zimand returned to finish high school in Israel and joined the army as a photographer for the air force.
She moved to Eilat for a few years to teach scuba diving, and continued her love of collecting archeological items, something her grandfather used to do.
Though she started studying archeology and Judaism, two subjects about which she was passionate, she couldn’t sit still in class. She soon started working with art collectors around the world, selling and collecting Judaica art including hanukkiot, books, mezuzot and other pieces.
Years later, she picked up and moved to New York to study hassidism within the Lubavitch community, but continued to paint at night.
When she returned to Israel, again as a secular Jew, she had her first art exhibition, “Addiction” – named for the way she made “everything abstract in an obsessive way.”
She says her art process is best at night. For years she has suffered from sleep deprivation and anxiety, and while she has taken pills, art is really the only medicine that works for her.
“I feel that all my expressions are coming out, and I feel relaxed and that I did something,” she says. “All my nervous anger is on the canvas.”
Creating her African-inspired art series was no different: “I’ll wake up at 5 a.m., jump out of bed, make coffee, and blast my music as loud as I can in my headphones.”
Rocker David Bowie plays an instrumental part in her art process.
“The masterpieces are with David Bowie. I come back to him every night.”
She calls herself a “woman of contradictions.” When I ask what she means by that, she says with a sly smile that she will show me her home in north Tel Aviv so I can see for myself. The house is a gallery of its own; Zimand collects pieces from all over the world. She takes me into her library, decorated with her grandparents’ ketuba from Morocco, a Scroll of Esther, and books upon books on Kabbala, archeology, and what she describes as “the books of rabbis with handwriting and big signatures.”
Here, she teaches me that in Judaism, demons do in fact exist. She opens up a book about Kabbala from the 16th century. “It almost looks like a child drew them. So simple.”
Zimand created “Demons” using acrylic paint mixed with sand from her own backyard – the Mediterranean.
“This year I started to get out all of the African things inside my head. I started to get really close, remember everything, and I started to make them” – “them” being the people of the tribes. She recalls how she would draw the people celebrating and dancing at night, and says today it reminds her of the color and life in New Orleans.
Zimand says she had learned about the people of Africa being scary, but she didn’t let that stop her. “I loved the African countries because it was very dangerous, there were very scary people. In Sierra Leone, [you see] kids that are 12 years old with a gun, an M16, and he can kill you from one word. But I used to not be afraid.”
In her work with many Judaica collectors, she says, “my specialty was pregnancy and death – when the child comes out, and after the death. In Africa, it’s the same, but in a different way. In the end it’s primitive art all over the world, and it looks the same. The Torah looks the same.”
African-influenced art is new to Israel, but Zimand insists that African art is where it all began.
“Even Picasso and Matisse used to go to Africa to see the tribes,” she says. “I think everything comes out of Africa.”
The paintings are full of intense colors, something Zimand says is different for her.
“I love darkness, but sometimes I wake up and suddenly you can see yellow and I don’t know what happened to me. I’m changing with my moods. It can be all black and blue and different colors. And when I’m in a good mood... it’s like the sunshine,” she says. “I live art. Mamash [really], I feel it – I love art.”
When the gallery opens in December, she wants people to see what she feels. “I expect people to see exactly what I see when I paint.
I don’t care if people like it or not.
I want them to see what I see in the same moment that I paint.”
“Demons” will be on display at the Artists’ House, 9 Alharizi Street, Tel Aviv, from December 5 to 28.