by Rummy Gill, Cohort ’20
During this summer’s residency, I became inspired by the Israel Pavilion in the Giardini at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, which featured the internationally acclaimed artist Ilit Azoulay from Israel who lives and works in Berlin. In particular, I highlighted the Israeli pavilion because Azoulay’s work reminded me of lustrous maps. Azoulay’s works are not maps but nevertheless, they are abstract works suggesting imaginary mappings of stories that need to be unveiled: a mapping of historicity, materiality, and cultural specificity of faraway objects. As an exploration, I will reflect on Azoulay’s installation Queendom by applying a hermeneutical approach, a study of interpretation that breaks through the pleasurable distractions of consciousness in order to disclose historical and cultural realities that manifest within an object.
Azoulay’s installation in the Israeli pavilion was a unique photographic and interrogative methodological approach that disassembles and reassembles previously unexamined objects and elements. Within the context of the Biennale Arte 2022, Azoulay focuses on “intersectional questions of cultural appropriation, shared histories, and the sovereignty of art” (Hartin: Digital). The installation Queendom is dominated by art, and its story is one of female and cultural empowerment (Hartin: Digital). Azoulay’s work is created through a lens of “knowledge production and the imagination”; Azoulay shows how the world is perceived differently through a female lens rather than a male-dominated one (Hartin: Digital). In the realm of the Giardini, Azoulay showed a number of compilations of images that come from a male-dominated system that she has reappropriated to show a female representation. Azoulay has repurposed archival source materials to show a malfunction of existing power structures (Hartin: Digital). It is through this reappropriation that one sees the “digital craftwork” visualizing the “afterlife of images” into the physicality of the Biennale (The Milk of Dreams: Biennale Arte 2022, 182).
Azoulay’s seven panels depicted refined details and figures in a blown-up size: they are a photomontage, images digitally “welded” onto the scanned metal panels. In doing so, the artist is able to transform or interpret cultural craftwork into new imaginative perceptions to read Western attitudes to Islamic civilization (Hartin: Digital). The artist’s process allows her to engage with archival photographs which she scans, crops, and cuts in order for them to be carriers in the transformation of new information. Azoulay’s works are a reappropriation of the research work of Western art historian Davis Strom Rice who photographed thousands of pieces of inlaid and embossed metal tableware, objects made and sold in the Middle East, regardless of their ethnicity or religiosity (Levin: Digital Frieze, Milk of Dreams: Biennale Arte 2022, 182). These objects arrived in Europe via Venice and ended up in collections of many Western museums where the historian photographed them (Levin: Digital Frieze). Azoulay has taken Rice’s photographs and scanned, enlarged, cut, and transformed them by photomontage creating new objects with different origins in order to create new interpretations and linkages between them. By taking these original objects out of their intentionality and looking at them from a Western researcher’s perspective, Azoulay is unveiling them in order to manipulate and create something different to give the objects a new interpretative release and a new purpose in the world (Levin: Digital Frieze). In many ways, these new objects created by the artist have been given a new order within society and within the world which did not exist before. The Israeli pavilion is metamorphosed into the Queendom’s palace shifting away from “patriarchal programming” to a space of trans-regionality and one that is re-gendered and reconfigures from a male-centered gaze to one that empowers femininity (Hartin: Digital). In many ways, the work created by Azoulay incites a new mapping into the imaginary, it is a “rhizomatic realm” where it allows the viewer to explore and interpret new stories that were once missing from the “geographies of knowledge” (The Milk of Dreams: Biennale Arte 2022, 182). The artist’s technological means of digitizing the objects has emancipated the objects by giving them a sense of freedom of interconnectedness in order to speak a new language of universality (The Milk of Dreams: Biennale Arte 2022, 182). According to the Biennale Curator Cecilia Alemani, “It is a world where one can change, be transformed, become something or someone else” (aicf.org). Azoulay’s Queendom incited this idea beautifully, by fitting naturally into the realm of the Biennale’s Giardini.
Hartin, Shelly. “Ilit Azoulay: Queendom”. La Biennale di Venezia, 59th International Art Exhibition: Israeli Pavilion 2022. April 23-November 27, 2022.
“Ilit Azoulay -Queendom (Israel) -Venice Art Biennale 2022”. Video: https://youtu.be/CZxBA6zNWh4
“Ilit Azoulay Presents “Queendom” at the Venice Biennale”. https://aicf.org/event/ilit-azoulay-presents-queendom-at-the-venice-biennale/
Levin, Boaz. “Ilit Azoulay’s ‘Queendom’ Reconstructs the Past”. Frieze. April 19, 2021.
“The Milk of Dreams: Biennale Arte 2022”. Short Guide. La Biennale di Venezia.