Exhibition views – Jewish Museum of Belgium

Home – Jewish Museum of Belgium (Octobre 7th 2020 – Avril 25th 2021)

Home is the first retrospective devoted to Assaf Shoshan (born 1973), photographer and video artist who lives and works between Paris and Tel Aviv. This original exhibition retraces the thread of a sensitive and committed body of work, spanning a period of twenty years between the Middle East, Europe and Africa. With a background in philosophy before devoting himself to photography, Shoshan tirelessly probes the world, through the notions of territory, identity and belonging, beyond tangible borders and visible separations. Inhabited by the theme of uprootedness, his work takes a subtle and sensitive look at a wandering humanity.

Exile, in its simultaneously existential and poetic dimension, traverses Shoshan’s visual universe from one end to the other. His aerial landscapes are shrouded in mystery. The photographic series Playground, Home and Umm Esh-Shaqaf, driven by an apocalyptic aesthetic, are charged with history. These timeless images act as enigmatic visions that invite viewers to alter their gaze: beyond their formal range, these impenetrable settings, sometimes laid bare, sometimes captured in a dizzying play of chiaroscuro, evoke age-old conflicts and men torn from their land.

Shoshan casts a dispassionate eye on an embattled humanity thirsting for existence and questions the nature of the concept of identity. As a sensitive witness to wandering souls suffering from expatriation, his photographer’s gaze, distanced and empathetic, turns towards today’s exiles: marginalised personalities, excluded populations, migrants, refugees and undocumented migrants. The series 10 Years of Solitude and Simplon, dedicated to African asylum seekers, as well as the images of No Lifeguard On Duty, devoted to the offbeat nightlife of Tel Aviv, honour the heroic figures of modern times. Weakened and subject to the shadows, these men and women are, by the power of the lens, brought to light in their humanity. Shoshan gives a face to those whom society makes invisible: his frontal images capture a vulnerability tinged with hope, full of dignity.

The Israeli artist’s work is distinguished by a singular posture, both documentary and autobiographical, which gives rise to images midway between reality and fiction. He adopts a strategy of withdrawal, creating metaphorical spaces that summon the imagination. Photography must then be “experienced” and “imagined”, as Georges Didi-Huberman maintains in his Images malgré tout. Shoshan exploits a space that is not saturated with signs as a margin for events: the desert space. The desert acts as a revealer, forcing the spectator to strip away the superfluous in order to get to the essential.

By putting the exclusion of African expatriates in Europe or Israel into perspective, Shoshan evokes the history of the Jewish people, which is marked by the exodus and issues of abandonment and acceptance. However, his obsession with the theme of exile is in line with his own journey: belonging to the third generation of Jewish exiles living in Israel, having himself chosen to go and live in a foreign country, Shoshan is intimately involved with the question of attachment to a territory. His work depicts the special bond to a land and, conversely, the discomfort of feeling like a stranger in one’ s own country.

Where can we feel at home when the familiar becomes the stranger? What defines this home that is at once the household, an intimate space and a feeling of being “at home”? Shoshan lives between two countries, France and Israel. His personal experience of displacement not only engages his perception as a photographer but also nourishes his philosophical reflection: the distance allows him to integrate a new understanding of the land where he was born. Shoshan exploits this feeling of distance and makes this anxiety a lever in his visual research. Starting from his intimate relationship with a feeling of alienation, the Israeli artist deploys a unique aesthetic around a phenomenon of “deterritorialisation”. He invents a poetry of clandestinity, driven by the underlying question: to which territory should we devote ourselves in a world with blurred borders?


Bruno Benvindo, Head of Exhibitions and curator of “Home”

Barbara Cuglietta, Director of the Jewish Museum of Belgium