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DUENDE 30.6.22 - 30.7.22

Marie gallery, Jerusalem
Curator: Sasha Okun


In principle, the curator’s text aims to provide the viewer with information that will contribute to deepening (broadening, enriching – your choice) of the viewer’s reactions to the artworks on view. Ideally this requires the author to detach to some extent from the visual artist; however, to my deep regret (or my great fortune – once again, your choice), when it comes to Judith Anis’s oeuvre, this author is far from being objective. Furthermore, he believes that the best text for this exhibition is a text written by a poet – because only poetry can express in words what cannot be expressed in words at all.

In any case, that it approximately what this author thought to himself when he first saw these works by Judith in a strange building that reminded a bit of the famous “Beehive” of Paris but was surprisingly located near the Mahane Yehuda open air market instead of on the Boulevard Montparnasse – where it should have been.

Of course, Anis is far from being the first artist who turned to the motif of dance.

From Egyptian dancers, Greek Maenads, and Roman Bacchantes, through delicate medieval ladies, refined Renaissance Graces, together with the wild dances of the peasants of the Brabant and elsewhere, through to Degas’s sensuous ballerinas, the exotic plasticity of Rodin’s Cambodian dancers and Matisses’s barbaric dancers, humans’ bodily movements and their ultimate expression – dance – have attracted artists’ attention, and continue to do so.

It is important to note that the most abstracted visual forms into which this phenomenon is cast are outgrowths of painstaking research through figurative drawings. And, thank God, Anis is no exception. The proof (which seems most important to us) is that this exhibit displays the rapid sketches Anis made from observation in Nadia Timofeyeva’s classical ballet studio and Sharon Sagui’s flamenco studio. These beautiful in their laconic form, rapid drawings definitely have their own independent value, but in this exhibition, they fulfill the role of the corps de ballet, intended to accompany the prima ballerinas, which are the collages inspired by flamenco and the prints after Rodin’s sculptures.

It must be emphasized that any attempt to refer to the superpowers of dance is an extremely dangerous undertaking. Very few motifs make as rich a ground for kitsch as dance, with the only competition posed by paintings of a rose garden in bloom. But just think about flamenco! Here one can choose from a plenitude of colorful fans, castanets, a red rose in black hair, a dress with a train…. Access to flamenco is as complicated as attempting to scale a crystal cliff covered with sticky sweet syrup.

Meanwhile, genuine flamenco (and not the cheap substitute shoved at tourists to top off their cold paella and Fanta-based sangria), like all true arts, does not connect to flowing saccharine tears, but is linked to basic human existence, primarily with death. Just as in the bullfight (which is a link in the chain stretching from ancient games with a bull – remember the bull-dancing frescoes of Knossos) that still remain the ultimate expression of Spanish culture and Spanish spirit, despite the efforts of adherents of the politically correct. The matador’s movements and the positions he must perform during the fight are identical to the pirouettes in flamenco. Bullfighting is the dance in which two – the bullfighter and the bull –follow a rigid ritual with precision. In flamenco, the bull is virtual, but its shadow - the shadow of death - is invisibly present in each movement. The final gesture is as precise and inevitable as the strike of a sword. Flamenco is suffused with passion; sentimentality is painted in different shades. Passion is as clear and unambiguous as direct sunlight, or like a shadow, like the seating area marked on the entrance tickets to the bullfighting arena: sol or sombra – sun or shade. No other option exists. Anis found the possibility to express this through her choice of the material. There is no place here for watercolors flowing at their whim, with their superb values, nor for oil paints with their prestige and richness. Here the gesture of collage is unambiguous, never leaving room for doubt. Here the contour lines of the torn (wounded) paper embody an irreversible act, as does the certainty of the stencil print with its tough solid color.

Entirely ignoring the seduction of beauty, exoticism, or romanticism, Anis moves past all of the roses and accessories without referring to them, ignoring mantillas, bracelets, and earrings, to fearlessly encounter the main element face to face: Anis looks the duende* straight in the eyes. This petite woman with the violet eyes has a brave heart, since the encounter with the duende is an act that requires no little courage. This is an encounter that can uplift or destroy a person.

“The bullfighter who terrifies the public with his bravery in the ring is not fighting bulls, but has lowered himself to a ridiculous level, to doing what anyone can do, by playing with his life: but the toreador who is bitten by the duende gives a lesson in Pythagorean music and makes us forget that his is constantly throwing his heart at the horns. Lagartijo, with his Roman duende, Joselito with his Jewish duende, Belmonte with his Baroque duende, and Cagancho with his Gypsy duende…”*

The precision of the gesture and compositional organization requires the artist to be as bold as the matador facing the bull. I have known Judith Anis for many years and have always been impressed not only by her talents but by her persistence and ability to search for new paths. She has a rare willingness to discard what was revealed and set out anew for dangerous adventures. And yet, it makes no difference to what adventures on which she would set out with her openness and absolute lightness; she is always accompanied by inborn elegance, charm, and a noble sense of proportion. Like all artists at the beginning of their journeys, she rented studios from various landlords, among them Reynolds, Turner, Japanese masters, Matisse, Dufy, and numerous others, including even Conceptualists. But now Judith is no temporary resident; she is her own proprietor.

According to historical chronicles, “The Jews left behind them Spain very Jewish, while they themselves remained very Spanish.” Six hundred years ago, the genome of the Jewish People was enriched with a unique Spanish gene, existing in each of us irrespective of origin. The pain and memory of the Jewish People’s first great romance with foreign culture is equally disturbing to the children of Casablanca and Moscow, Paris and Odessa, Amsterdam and New York. The hearts of the descendants of the exiles from Toledo and Barcelona, Cordoba and Saragossa, are not the only ones who beat to the sounds of the guitar, and those whose mother tongue is Ladino are not the only ones sensitive to Spanish romanceros. All of us are prisoners of Spain, but not all of us have the key to the house. Judith possesses it.

* “Duende – demon, a mysterious power which takes over a person under certain conditions, forcing the person to go beyond the ego. Art inspired by duende is a game of death. Duende is necessary for true creativity, whether dance, poetry, drama, or painting.”

** Federico García Lorca, Theory and Play of the Duende (1933). Eng. trans. by A.S. Kline (2007)

Sasha Okun

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