Meet the Curator of the First Israeli Art Exhibition in the UAE

Sharon Toval’s presentation will explore Israeli attitudes towards the lives of their ancestors in Arab lands

Sharon Toval, an independent contemporary art curator based in Tel Aviv, is preparing to organize the first Israeli exhibition in the United Arab Emirates.

Born in France, he moved to Israel over a decade ago and found his voice in curating artwork both there and abroad.

Longing Be-longing: On Post-Orientalist Influences in Contemporary Israel Art is the theme of his exhibition at the Ras Al Khaimah Fine Arts Festival (RAKFAF), which will take place in the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah during the month of February.

Toval’s theme is what he calls a post-Orientalist mindset.

“Orientalism in the 19th century was a way of perceiving the Orient through artistic practice, and that way was a very Western way of seeing the Orient. It was a very political way of looking at things, it was an imaginary way of looking at them,” he said in an interview with The Media Line.

“In Israel, you have a lot of people who come from ‘Oriental’ [Mizrahi] country,” he said. The new generation did not grow up in these countries, “they have all these stories about the way of living in these countries of their parents, which is a way of yearning for the other life, the simplicity, the very authentic way to live, far from this modernism,” added Toval.

“I took this artwork from this culture of longing for what they weren’t living but what their parents did,” he said. The exhibition aims to show the complexity of contemporary Israeli society.

Mati Elmaliach, Abigail, 2019. (Tal Nissim)

Toval used to visit Dubai before the countries signed the Abraham Accords in September 2020. But when he visited a year ago, he met a contact who offered him to participate in the festival of arts of Ras Al Khaimah.

While preparing for this year’s festival, he served as one of four judges from around the world, helping to decide who will present in different categories. Then they offered him the opportunity to organize his own exhibition.

“I hope that most people who have never had anything to do with anything related to Israel, experience a first approach to this little corner of the earth, its culture and its people,” he said. he declared.

The route to this exhibition

After Toval moved to Israel, he earned his bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering and management from the Technion in Haifa and a master’s degree in arts policy and theory from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.

His family originated from Algeria, which may have sparked his interest in the origins of Jews from Arab lands. He spent time in Morocco on a residential curatorial fellowship in 2017. There he worked on researching Amazigh symbolism in rugs and tattoos and their relationship to contemporary Israeli artists of North African origin.

During his stay in Morocco, he was confronted with questions about the origins of “Arab Jews”.

“In Israel, the ideology is that people [in Arab countries] don’t like jews, but on the other side people don’t understand why people [the Jews] left,” he said.

His time in residence influenced his thinking. Toval curated an exhibition in 2018-19, about the encounter between social shame and Jews from Arab lands who faced racism when moving to Israel. Arabs in Israel still face classism and racism, he said, which made his exhibit controversial.

Ameera Zyian, Veil Self-portrait, 2016. (Courtesy)

“Many things that have remained from this period [of aliyah], this situation has developed a kind of subculture of politics, of society,” he said. “No one has done this before me. It was very controversial. »

“It’s a theme I always think about,” he said, explaining why he came up with the theme of Orientalism for the UAE exhibition. Toval will bring three videos, a photographic installation, a sculpture and numerous photographic pieces.

“I try to explain to other people in the world the Israeli society which is very complex. Even the expression “Israeli society” is not really an exact expression. It’s so divided; you have so many aspects of people, backgrounds, colors,” he said.

A video, he describes, shows two men dancing or fighting, with audio of a prayer that Jews sing in the synagogue. “It’s a very conceptual production of the Jewish oriental tradition, it’s a Moroccan song,” he said.

According to him, the video shows that loving and hating, dancing and fighting are the same thing. “It’s kind of uniting people together, that’s how I see it,” he said.

About Wesley V. Finley

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