The Unity of Contrasts

Hana Kofler

“Kenan/Kanaan” is an exhibition on the subject of culture, identity and language - the basic constituents which have motivated the art world since the dawn of humanity. These constituents are embodied


“Kenan/Kanaan” is an exhibition on the subject of culture, identity and language - the basic constituents which have motivated the art world since the dawn of humanity. These constituents are embodied in the sculptural oeuvre of Amos Kenan and Ahmed Kanaan, in works that they have conceived in bronze, wood, aluminum, clay and paint.
Kenan says of himself that he “sculpts in Hebrew”. Without doubt this is a cultural statement and a declaration of identity, which may also be projected upon Kanaan’s art: the latter speaks Arabic and draws from the same sources, the same land, the same climate and the same essence.
The two artists, each in his own way, represent a local synthesis of reciprocal relations and influences between cultures. Their art is influenced by the ancient East and by archaeological findings; it touches on history, mythology and customs; draws upon the Mediterranean spirit; deals with mass, proportion and composition, but beyond all these it is a pattern of their birthplace’s landscape.
In fact, the figurative aspects in this exhibition make verbosity redundant, for the simple reason that the appearance of the sculptures depicts itself and does not pretend to reflect some hidden image. Nonetheless, the co-presentation of Kenan’s and Kanaan’s sculptures arouses thoughts that touch on “otherness” and “identity”, so much so that someone even mixed up their names into “Amos Kanaan” and “Ahmed Kenan” - not because of the phonetic similarity of the names, but because of the visual and thematic closeness of their work. The geographical background which created the meeting point between Amos and Ahmed reveals its unifying influence, despite the diametrically opposed home environments in which the two artists grew up.
            Amos Kenan was born in Palestine in 1927. Ahmed Kanaan was born in Israel in 1965. The former was born in Tel Aviv, the latter in Tamra. Both of them live and work in the vicinity of their birthplace. Kenan, among other things, is identified with the Canaanite movement that arose in this country in the forties, the founders of which adhered to the utopian idea of a new Middle East united in a pluralistic national framework. This “utopian idea” still keeps coming up for discussion very frequently, and today, despite the “separation” policy, it cannot be severed from the cultural process that is taking place in our region. Evidence of this is the “To the East: Orientalism in the Arts in Israel” exhibition currently on show at The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The curator, Yigal Zalmona, notes in the Introduction to the exhibition catalogue that “we were unable to present the Falastini-Israeli aspect in a significant manner, because many Israeli Arab artists refused to participate in the exhibition since it was part of the events celebrating the jubilee year of the State of Israel”. “This is a great loss”, Zalmona adds. Indeed, beside the sculptures of Binyamin Tammuz, Yehiel Shemi, Kosso Ellul and Amos Kenan, it would have been fitting to place, among others, the sculptures of Ahmed Kanaan, even though they were not created between the thirties and the fifties. Kanaan’s sculptures and assemblages draw their inspiration from Canaanite mythology, from the Arab culture and from the magic of the East, except that in his case there is no room for the creation of a movement of the previous Canaanite kind, if only for the reason that Kanaan is not condemned to shake off two thousand years of Exile. His art is a natural act of continuity - a clear touching upon origins, empowered by a sense of exile in his natural homeland.
            Kenan does not cease drawing upon the sources that guided the beginnings of his sculptural path, to which he has returned more vigorously in recent years. Kanaan does not cease from constant references to his origins, which confirm his cultural and national rights. It is enough to look at the winged lions and horses that form an inseparable part of the repertoires of both artists,to compare Kenan’s blue camels and Kanaan’s green camel - a distinctive sovereign image which they both transform into a transcription of a desert cliché -between the one’s Talos and the other’s Baal and Anath -ancient idols who demand their host of victims to this day - to start wondering about the essence of the paradoxes that fill the actuality of our existence, and about the fact that in spite of everything, the paradoxes generate brothers in spirit.