Leor Grady is an israeli artist who through his art investigates the intersection between his personal experiences and different aspects of his identity. Grady’s work explores daily objects and experiences to create a poetic and subversive art. Grady’s art questions/contests the Ashkenazi hegemony that has shaped and controlled the the “official” art and culture world in Israel and most of the Jewish world. Grady’s work brings back voices and events that were excluded from the Zionist narrative and gives them a respectful and poetic stage. Grady uses in his art materials and objects that are accessible and come from his environment. The use of these materials and objects gives him the opportunity to create art that breaks out from the boundaries that the so called “art world” created. By doing so he believes he can reach a wider range of viewers.
Grady’s work has been shown in the US and abroad, at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC, Haifa Museum of Arts, Rush Arts Gallery, Exit Art, Y Gallery and The Center for Book Arts in New York City, as well as in public and private collections and in various publications.
GrayLit: We/I were intrigued by one of your most recent work, “Poel Tivi/Natural worker”. Your work is about the Kinnert or as it known in English the sea of Galilee. Located in the northeast region of Israel and near the borders with Jordan and Syria and until recently the main source of water is Israel. The kinneret has a special place in the Zionist story and Narrative. In the end of the 19th century, it was the place were the some of the first Jewish immigrants/settlers set up their first homes. It is a fundamental stage for the creation of the “New Jew” (a secular, strong, hardworking, and often a farmer) in contrast to the the diasporan Jew (a weak and powerless). The Zionist narrative left some actors out of it, can you please tell us who were these actors and what is your personal connection to them.
Leor Grady: The Kinneret is an Israeli and Zionist symbol and Image, contrary to Jerusalem which is considered a over-religious character and Tel-Aviv with it over-urban symbolic character. The story of pioneers who settled on it shores omits/erased the major rule of the Yemenite Jews. Even though that they arrived in the early 20th century, few years before Eastern European Jews arrived, and even though they contributed and worked to develop the new settlements on the shores of the Kinneret, they were never been accepted and treated equally by the Zionists leaderships and establishment of that time (and in many ways it still happens today). Their tragic/melancholic story of the Yemenite jews is similar to story of the poet Rachel whom her spirit and body did not survive the harsh condition of living on the Kinneret shores. In both cases not only that the Zionist leadership did not support them, they pressured them to relocate to live far away from the Kinneret.
In my body work “Natural worker” that was exhibited at “Ha’Kibutz” gallery in Tel Aviv in early 2017. I presented a video, paintings and letters that deal/tells the historic story of the Kinneret Yemenite community from their experience and point of view, which is absent from the mainstream zionist Israeli narrative and story. The Yemenites send letters to the Zionist leadership to recognize their hardships and demanded to treat them as equals. These letters used a rich and poetic language that borrows from biblical Hebrew structures. A central place in the exhibition is given to this kind of Hebrew language, I used their text to embroider a golden thread on linen. These pieces were staged on the main gallery wall.
GL: In a previous conversation we had, we discussed the differences between the national cultural narratives between Israel and the US, and what kind of personal sacrifices are required to assimilate in each society. In the US for example, the assimilation process is long and takes generations, it requires a lot of historical erasure and alignment with cultural dogmas, where many of them are not connected to reality. In your opinion what is the parallel process in Israel? What is the intellectual and cultural requirements to be a citizen in Israel?
LG: Israel is not a state. It is a family, with all the harsh complexity and comforting parts in it. The feeling of belonging is embedded in the Israeli being, which of course is a result of a complex and very distorted Zionist ideological attempt. The feeling of belonging is blurring the border between the private and the public spaces. There is no ceremony/performance in Israel, the being is practical, familiar, bothersome and charming, depends on the time of the day.
As an example you can look at a common sidewalk in Tel Aviv, you will see how the sidewalk is shared between a car parked on the curb, a parent pushing a baby trolley, a bike lane and a recycling bin. In the same time and in between, you find yourself being part of the space and a nuisance.
GL: You are the head of the Fine Art department at the Minshar School of Arts in Tel Aviv. In a previous conversation you had you told me that even a walk down a street in Tel aviv is a “political act”, despite this feeling your connection this space/place/Israel is very strong and intersect you identities/origins. Can you elaborate and explain how these feelings are expressed at your work as an educator and head of a department in an Israeli institute?
LG: It is personally important for to be a part of an educational institute that connects between arts and community – Minshar as institute is very sensitive to the Israeli reality and a strong evidence for that is the diversity fabric/spectrum both within our students, faculty and staff, this reflects the diverse identities in the Israeli society. The Israeli daily experience is deeply embedded in a dynamic political being. Every time one walks in the street they have to confront and deal with the national collective narrative and they have to deal with all the complexities, divisions and denials. With all this complex reality, This is where my art comes from, exist within and belongs to
GL: Which artists do you feel your work is in some form of dialogue with?
LG: My work responds to a certain extent to artists who’ve focused and investigated their personal and political identity such as Glenn Ligon, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, but most importantly James Baldwin’s astute poetic compositions.