• Essay

  • April 23rd, 2014 04.23.2014

    Profile of the Artist: Dor Guez


    Over the past few years, Dor Guez’s work has attracted a lot of worldwide attention. Guez, who was born in Jerusalem to a mixed family of Jewish Tunisian and Christian Palestinian origins, lives and works in Tel Aviv, and is a prolific artist and scholar. He has presented over fifteen solo shows in the past eight years including at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, the Tel Aviv Museum, the Rose Art Museum in Boston, Dvir, the Mosaic Rooms in London, the Jewish Museum in New York, and many more important international art venues. Guez’s Scanograms, photographs, video works, and installations, score the importance of identity, history, meta-narratives and suppressed narratives in his work.

    Bleu, Blanc, Rouge, 2014, 7 vitrines and objects, various dimensionsDETAIL
    Dor Guez, Bleu, Blanc, Rouge, 2014, 7 vitrines and objects, various dimensions, detail.

    In 2009, Guez started his ambitious project The Christian Palestinian Archive  “a growing collection of scans of archival documents from the first half of the 20th century, documenting the personal histories of the Christian Palestinian community worldwide.”1 Until today, Guez has created three series of Scanograms: a term and technique that Guez developed, using a literal scanning device to draw with. Each is made by three layers of scanning – programmed to feature a different aspect of the material, which is then composed into one final image. Like a contemporary archaeologist, Guez uses the scanners to unveil and restore pictures from different archives, creating another artifact – the image itself – with equally important aesthetic and historical values. The work acts not only as art, but also a new historical document. Of course, many artists work with history or the archival, but Guez does it differently as his creation starts from the personal and expands through the work of art to wider histories, identities.

    Exhibition View- Sabir The Archive, 2012, Dvir Gallery,
    Exhibition View: Sabir The Archive, 2012, Dvir Gallery.

    The first series from 2010 is composed of fifteen works, which deal with pictures from Guez’s family albums, concentrating on the life events of his grandmother Samira and her family. In each work the frame is divided into two: the image on one side and the description of the event in Arabic on the other. Through the personal story of Guez’s family, we also see what life was like prior to 1948 in Palestine (the declaration of the State of Israel) and afterwards in Israel. In one instance, the text accompanying the image describes a “Group photo of the engineering department of the city of Tel Aviv and of the city of Jaffa, Jacob included, Jaffa 1940.” The image itself presents a group of workers, of mixed origins, Arabs and Jews alike, sitting together with the backdrop of palm trees. Peaceful and optimistic, the image presents the personal story of Guez, with his grandfather Jacob sitting in the group. This idyllic situation of course changed over the course of the years with the creation of Israel and the exile of the Palestinian communities all over the world. The “post-1948” reality is described in a few of the works in Scanograms I, such as in a piece showing Samira’s wedding in Lod, after the family left their hometown Jaffa. This is the first Christian Palestinian wedding in Lod, and is thus both an important historical document but also a milestone in the family’s story. Other works include Scanograms II from 2011, a series of nine works, which explore passports from the period of the British Mandate of Palestine before 1947 and before the creation of Israel in 1948. When observing these pieces, combining scans of passports from the period, each holding different visa stamps from the region and testimonies Guez collected, the viewers realize that the Middle East was until the end of the British Mandate a much freer zone, where travelling from Palestine to the neighboring countries was easier. The ways in which the works are presented, as black wooden objects like tables in a museum, enhances the archival feel of the work.  Most recently, Queen Esther I and Queen Esther II, as well as Cassettes IIII similarly explore Guez’s Jewish Tunisian origins.

    The film component in Guez’s body of work similarly shares a documentary feel. This is the case of (Sa)Mira, from 2009, a video which really marked me as a viewer. In this piece, Guez’s cousin Samira sits in front of him and describes a racist incident she experienced at work. While watching the video, the viewers are confronted to the recalling of this young woman of a disturbing and traumatic event. Almost nothing interferes with the very immediate experience of seeing Samir herself; viewers cannot separate themselves from the young woman’s story, or the questions it raises regarding identity. Like many of his subjects, Samira is like a mirror.

    In his latest exhibition Pendant Letters, which just closed at Dvir, Guez deals with the Jewish side of his family in an installation entitled Bleu Blanc Rouge. Presenting itself as an objective collection of artifacts and objects, within museum vitrines and on pedestals, the items are in fact a collection of family objects: buttons, an eagle sculpture, Guez’s grandfather notebook where he wrote his plays, his grandmother’s stencil cutouts from which she created the costumes for her husband’s plays, etc. All the objects presented are ambivalent, in the sense that they reference both eastern and western identities, alluding to the complex identity of Jewish Tunisian immigrants to Israel in the 1950s. Indeed, the Jewish community was greatly influenced by the French protectorate in Tunisia. This is palpable in the name of the installation, but also in the other works which were presented in the show, especially with the complex use of language, both Judeo-Arabic and French. The exhibition’s starting point is therefore again Guez’s own family history, but resonates with the viewers in many different ways, no matter where they come from. In a gallery talk Guez gave during the exhibition, he mentioned that he was sure each visitor would project his or her own family history onto the work, and this is the strength of his work as an artist.

    Guez’s approach in Pendant Letters acts as a tool to document, archive, restore, and transmit untold and repressed histories and identities. His mission between a meticulous historian and artist is a fine tension, one that makes his work so fascinating and universal.

    1. Taken from the artist’s website