Nadia Perlov is a young Israeli artist who lives and works in Frankfurt. Her artworks consist of multidisciplinary video works, sculptures, and spatial and wall installations. Thematically, her home country Israel plays an important role in her artistic practice in the form of a recurring case study. Using complex and allegorical narratives, she explores controversial spatial design practices in the Palestinian-Israeli region, past and present, in a multi-layered aesthetic research.
In the video Lost Pardess - Maybe Paradise, as in other video works, she uses performance, music, dance and stage design as aesthetic means to make visible the complicated connections between land, nature, cultivation of the soil and social conflicts. In doing so, the Jaffa Orange is at the center of the story. The video, shot in an empty tile distribution office, begins with Nadia as a performer entering the frame dressed in a pistachio green pantsuit, high-heeled shoes, and a festive rhinestone necklace in the abandoned office desert. Nadia slowly lifts her shoe and lets a knife flick out from the heel. With a ballet-like spinning motion, the knife cuts a circle into the dusty carpet, the circular surface is removed and behind it are hidden - oranges! In an advertising-like gesture the smell, the taste and the processing of the orange to a drink is described - the orange as juice, peeled, in pieces, the orange as myth and the ingestion of the orange in a choreography danced by Nadia. A fruit endowed with a kind of super power.
However, the dreariness of the abandoned office with partially hanging ceiling sections imply that the cheerful performance and the praise of the orange also has a dark side. At the end of the video, Nadia sings a Hebrew song that sounds nostalgic, elegiac and sad. It is the poem El Artzi (To My Land) by the poet Rachel Bluwstein. The poem describes the difficult relationship of the early Zionists to the land of Palestine/Israel, and it anticipates the history of suffering and war that this region has endured for a century. The Jaffa orange, initially positively charged in peformance as a pleasant tasting and smelling citrus fruit, takes on a political meaning and refers to the first settlers who came to Israel at the beginning of the 20th century and became a symbol of Israeli pride, modernity and prosperity. Charged with commercial and cultural significance, the Jaffa Orange had the power to formulate a new reality for the Israeli people, portraying the agricultural success of turning the desert into a fertile place as a miraculous achievement.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian side, which owned most of the orchards before they were taken away from them after 1948, remained in the shadows. No light was shed on the cooperative life that Jews and Arabs led in the citrus industry before 1948. This labor reality was replaced by a romantic idealization of a new Middle East exporting civilized products to Europe. But that a citrus fruit carries this history points to how Nadia says that war is much more complicated, it's woven into the culture and felt where you don´t see it.
In her latest works, Bugs which Nadia has been making since 2020 and which were shown in a solo exhibition at Galerie Robert Grunenberg at the beginning of 2021, Nadia uses completely different aesthetic means, but in these she continues to treat the themes of land, war, identity. In large display cases, reminiscent of the insect collections of European botanists, the forms of beetles can be seen at first glance. On closer inspection, the structures of houses, gardens and settlements become visible on the beetles. From a bird´s eye view, these collages become conundrums that oscillate between aesthetic objects and clear criticism of Israel's settlement policy. Nadia thus sees it as her task not merely to produce beautiful things, but to use her art to sensitize people to the long and difficult path that lies ahead of Israel and Palestine, and at the same time to make visible how closely Jewish identity is linked to European colonialism and what highly complex and aesthetically multi-layered efforts are required to capture these entanglements artistically. In addition to aesthetic representation, Nadia's work is also about reflecting on how she can critique and enlighten as an artist. In her home country, the issues that preoccupied her are often sidestepped, and there is no offensive confrontation.
It´s a difficult thing to talk about these issues in Israel. The art academies don't want to have anything to do with politics or talk about what the situation is like in Palestine. People are tired of talking about it. If you make it an issue anyway, you become an outsider. But I had these questions and I had to ask them. It also has to do with the fact that I´ve lived in Europe and I know not only the Israeli and Jewish perspectives on the issue, but also many others. As an Israeli who is constantly in contact with artists from other countries, she reflects differently on Israeli society, and as an artist she tries to show new perspectives in order to somehow gain a spark of confidence from the messy situation in Israel and Palestine.
Text: Leon Joskowitz and Sonja Yakovleva