Adi Nes’ art is deliberate, methodical and designed to ensnare viewers with its provocative subject matter: namely, subtle, homoerotic images of Israeli soldiers and downtrodden men, often posed in bleak landscapes.
Born in Kiryat Gat to Iranian and Kurdish immigrant parents, he told The CJN his photographs are partially autobiographical in that they are designed to represent the “periphery” of Israeli society – people from villages and towns such as Kiryat Gat that were initially founded by Sephardi immigrants, often low-income families from North Africa.
Though the demographics and economic situation of his hometown have changed since his childhood, Ness said the tensions and prejudice he and his cohort experienced growing up in Israel as immigrants and dark-skinned Jews continue to haunt his work.
While Ashkenazim and Sephardim today in Israel have since “gotten over it,” Nes said his pictures are part of his experience growing up and then coming out as a gay man in Israel.
“But the past always exists in the present. And in the past there was a big issue between Sephardim and Ashkenazim,” he said. “And many people are still not over it. I choose to deal with these issues, because Sephardim used to be labelled as minorities, which caused them to question their identity” in white Israel.
His first Toronto exhibition is being presented by the Koffler Centre for the Arts, on display off-site at the Olga Korper Gallery, 17 Morrow Ave.
The exhibition includes Nes’ most prominent photographs from Soldiers (1994-2000), Boys (2000) and Biblical Stories (2003-2006) series, including the iconic Untitled (The Last Supper) (1999).
It runs until June 2.
Nes said he toured Montreal some years ago and was enjoying his stay in Toronto last week.
“Montreal is Europe and Toronto is the New York City” of Canada, he offered.
Speaking to The CJN at the exhibit last week, Nes said the theme of his work focuses on issues of identity.
“I’m a multi-faceted person, as we all are. My early work was more focused on homoeroticism, because I was still in the process of coming out,” he said. “There were issues of masculinity and Israeliness.”
Now, however, his work continues to evolve, and this week Nes was scheduled to release his first new project since 2007. This one is titled The Village and will feature a set of photographs that attempts to “connect to the new Israeli society.”
Nes said he’s been contemplating issues that Israel needs to grapple with moving forward as a country.
“What is Israel today? Is it still based on the Zionist dream? If not, then what? We must ask who we are and who we want to be,” he said. “We’re getting to a place where [Israel] must ask itself more about its identity and less about its politics. Peace starts from the inside. When we recognize our defects… as with anyone, not every aspect of a person is good.”
The new exhibit launched in Tel Aviv on May 17, and Nes said he hopes to tour it in Canada sometime down the road.
“The Village is a metaphor for Israel as a small place built after a tragedy. It’s a beautiful place, but with tension and tragedy lurking behind the scenes,” Nes said by way of describing his new work.
He turned to photography as a career shortly after his military service, where he was an air-traffic controller. He needed an avenue to express his artistic side.
After enrolling at the Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem, he took numerous courses in all aspects of drawing, including graphic and industrial design, photography and painting.
“But since I came from a middle-class family, I needed to study something in order to make a living,” Nes said. “I never thought about photography, but by accident I enrolled in a photography program and I was surprised when I was invited to interview for it, and even more surprised when they accepted me.”