Diego Rotman brings art & politics to the Agnes

Israeli artist and curator talks his controversial project, The Eternal Sukkah

Credit: 
Supplied by Itamar Mendes-Flohr

On Monday, the Agnes Etherington Art Centre hosted acclaimed Argentinian-Israeli artist Diego Rotman, as he delivered a thought-provoking presentation on his latest project, The Eternal Sukkah.

Rotman, an academic, interdisciplinary artist and curator, has a particular interest in performance practices that engage local historiography, folklore research, art politics and Jewish culture.

In 2014, Rotman and fellow Israeli artist Lea Mauas built a sukkah (a Jewish ritual and dwelling), inspired by a Bedouin tent-like home common to those who live in the desert. This became their work, entitled, The Eternal Sukkah, representing Bedouin nomadic culture in the context of modern day refugees.  

The Journal sat down with Rotman to better understand his influential work and cultural influences. 

Q: How would you describe yourself and how are your personal interests reflected in this project?

Rotman: I’m part of the Sala-Manca artist group, and we are a couple  working together in Jerusalem. I’m also an academic so I’m also dealing with projects from a scholarly approach. I think the project itself is a reflection of my interests; mainly in that it’s reflecting our approach and our way of understanding the reality of where we live. It reflects the political situation, the social situation and how you can react to it.

Q: What is the objective of The Eternal Sukkah project?

Rotman: The objective is to explore the combination of the two realities, the Bedouin reality in the desert and the life of refugees — the life of not really owning, not occupying your own space, your own life and not having the same rights, such as with the history of the Jewish people when they were refugees living in Egypt with no land. 

Through the object, those two realities are connected in order to generate the possibility to embrace these two histories in the structure.

Q: What inspired you to explore concepts relating to Jewish art and culture such as this one?

Rotman: Yiddish was the language of my grandparents, I grew up with this language and culture and I was always attracted to it. Moreover, my studies and pursuits were a way to come back to my story, and my heritage that I’ve always has a strong connection to.

Q: What have been some of the reactions to your project, especially now that your piece is in the Israel Museum?

Rotman: I think there were many reactions from several different positions and perspectives. Most of the reactions and the general reaction of the public has been positive, because it gave them an opportunity to think.

That is positive, because they could reflect and reformulate their way of approaching the holiday of Sukkot (a Jewish holiday) and the situation of the Bedouins. It gave them the possibility to deal with this through absorbing another perspective. 

In the media and in the political scene, there were many reactions. On one side they were criticizing the museum for including this political situation and some of them don’t like it in the museum. Others criticized the fact the Bedouins were not part of and didn’t have a hand in creating the project. 

What was good about the project was that it created an opportunity for people to discuss and reflect, really starting the conversation on these topics. Every opinion generates more opinions and that’s wonderful.

Q: Can art be an effective platform to draw attention to important political issues?

Rotman: Of course, I cannot say that every art piece and every work can do that. But we can talk specifically about specific projects and this project did it and it really generated a lot of awareness and reactions in the media, and people dealing with a topic they wouldn’t give a lot of attention to if it wasn’t in the museum.

 

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