A "Yizkor" of the Nation - Nava Semel
Skies through bars. Like the vantage point of a prisoner looking out. To all appearances, he may escape through the holes gaped in the frame. The word "Yizkor" extends across a grid of squares reminiscent of a children's graph paper (יזכור)notebook. These are the sooty remains of a fire inscription that consumed the letter of which only a point of coal remains, momentarily interfering with the ,(ו) " "vav Remember). A religious precept ,זכור) " understanding of the commandment "Zakhor and a categorical imperative in Jewish tradition, the obligation of remembrance applies to society at large, and in particular—to every Jew.
"Remembearers," was the name I gave, in my novel And the Rat Laughed (2001),
to people like Haim Maor, whose art has sustained the moral commitment of the commandment "Zakhor" for three decades now, with determination and ardent devotion, regardless of any artistic bon-ton. "It is as if, after a night of terrible dreams, one looked around the world, defeated, helpless," said Hungarian writer, Holocaust survivor, Imre Kertesz in his Nobel Prize lecture.
Far from defeated, Maor's oeuvre is an ongoing, defiant act of remembering.
With long lasting determination, he investigates biographical strata, flooding them across his work as loss-concealing motifs: his father's tattooed number, his mother's embroidered blouse, his grandfather's blindness—a sooty family history unearthed through myriad objects, both concrete and abstract. These, in turn, have become fixed on coffin-like wooden panels, light boxes, sheets of fabric reminiscent of Holy Ark curtains, and original black-and-white family photographs.
In Lay the Tablet/Table of the Law (Shulkhan Arukh), an installation he has
exhibited in different variations since the 1980s, Maor exposed the private archeology of a single home of Holocaust survivors, from which one may learn about the memory genealogy of us all.
The fixed images recur in Maor's work, incarnated and evolving along
the temporal axis and within changing contexts. In Self-Portrait with Yellow
Patch (1987) p. 31, the artist's profile infiltrates deep into the acute angle generated by the triangles of the Star of David, alluding to photographs of condemned,echoing the documentation of the Auschwitz inmates upon their entry into the death camp. Maor invoked the map of the camp itself via a tattoo on a human back in 2001 (Untitled [Map of Auschwitz] p. 49) as a physical illustration of the burden carried by the survivors' offspring throughout their lives. On the whole,Maor's work is underlain by a super-narrative of "yahrzeit" (death anniversary),from the photographs of the bound figures he presented in the 1970s—people completely naked, devoid of identity, their heads covered with white sacks made of shroud fabric, to Disappearance pp. 32-33, a 2010 triptych bearing the portrait of the artist's mother, her face gradually fading to analogize the dimming of memory. As in the photograph Yizkor (2006) p. 26, here too, several sooty dots were left in the empty space as road signs in the elusive path of remembrance.
"They are Me" is the show's overall title. Haim [Heb. life]—how symbolic—introduces life into the locus of the dead, deluding the viewer. Over the years he first volunteered himself as a key figure, and subsequently his family members and friends. All became countenances he conjured up as a pattern intended to hint to the viewer: "It could just as easily have been you."
Through the faces of his friends and loved ones, Maor puts his own identity to the test. He pulls the test rope to the utmost. On the European side of the perpetrators of evil, he posits his German friend Susanna, who became a source of inspiration in the 1980s and 1990s; and on the Israeli side—his Bedouin friend, artist Khader Oshah, and his family, with whom he has maintained fruitful relations of artistic collaboration and mutual friendship.
Maor does not facilitate the act of identification. The viewer cannot tell in advance who is who. Inevitably we become partners in the cruel process of people sorting, while simultaneously taking part in a ceremonial parting with the dead in a never-ending cycle of mourning. After all, in our first years we pushed the pain to the bottom, and converted the scar for official ceremonies and memorial days. The clean,refined photograph Yizkor was captured in Maor's lens after the 2006 IDF Fallen Memorial Day by the dining hall of Tel Katzir, the kibbutz in which his wife Tirza's brother and mother live. It depicts the morning after the ceremony, when the people are already gone and the smoking brands alone attest to last night's act of collective remembrance.
The Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee below are seen at the bottom of the gridded frame. For a split second one may mistake the scenery for a pastoral European landscape, like that in which the worst catastrophe in our history took place. The picture's green foreground conceals the true condition of our only lake—a sparse water reservoir in an arid desert land. "This is the landscape which Jesus Christ traversed, as well as some of the heroes of Jewish culture," says Maor, whose photograph further corresponds with Michal Na'aman's renowned 1974 work, The Eyes of the Nation, a type of a "Yizkor of the Nation."
Maor keeps hundreds of similar "clean" photographs in a private archive under the category "Popular Art," images which he finds in places symbolizing Jewish and Israeli identity for him. Excluding the photograph Yizkor, none were presented in pristine condition, but rather served as a ground for countless works in diverse media. Taking up most of the sooty frame, the sky in the photograph is delimited by the engineered squares. An imprisoned sky. Perhaps this is the real prisoner in this place, and only the work of art can set it free.
Looking at this sky I'm reminded of the words we say in the Hebrew prayer Kaddish for the dead: "Magnified and sanctified be His great name in heaven."