In 2003, David Adika presented “Mahogany,” a series of 11 photographs of wooden statuettes from Africa that decorated his parents’ living room. His father had brought them from his travels to Africa—small sculptures of animals made of pale wood and painted black, sold as souvenirs. Adika photographed them on a glossy black surface, with dramatic lighting, seeking to echo the domestic sideboard, and printed the photographs in a large format, thus providing the African souvenir statuettes with a magnificent, monumental representation. The title “Mahogany” further imbued them with the opulence of the expensive wood (which has nothing to do with them) and hinted at a pun: the Hebrew word for “mahogany” can be read as “what is my color?” The question which Adika raised about the statuettes as well as about himself made the first link in Israeli art between the African black and the relative blackness of Oriental Israelis, thus diverting along the way the post-colonial discourse to the local, ethnic context.
The series “Africana” continues Adika’s ongoing interest in objects as identity conductors and in still life as the continuation or replacement of the body as a political entity. At the core of these new photographs is commercial glazed ceramic tableware made in Israel in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s by companies including Na’aman, Lapid, Palceramic and Beit Hayotser, in the attempt to create an authentic Israeli material language. The tableware, generally known as “Israeliana,” eventually lost its attraction due to, among other reasons, its identification with archeology, ideology and the fascination with the idea of a “homeland,” as well as changing tastes. Today it can be found in flea markets—usually slightly faulty or broken—where Adika purchases the pieces, building himself a collection of Israeliana in earthen hues, with the esthetics of Modernism identified with Israel’s early decades. When he photographs them against a background of wooden panels painted in complementary colors, he extricates from these vessels the layers of African influence that have not been elucidated so far, nor noted in the consciousness: the shapes, colors, design. He photographs the tableware singly, in pairs and in groups, and only a slight change of perception is needed in order to transform it into staged studio portraits.
Adika makes a double move here: he presents the formalist aspect of the 1984 MOMA exhibition “Primitivism in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern” and annexes to it the insights of post-colonial discourse. The photographs show how the new, modern-western Israeli identity often adopted, not necessarily consciously, an African esthetic—exotic and authentic rootedness in the guise of Modernism.
1970 Jerusalem, Israel