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Luminosity Amidst Chaos: Anai Salem's Art as a Beacon of Hope

Joana Alarcão

In this review, we delve into the profound and transformative work of Anai Salem, an Israeli-French artist whose creations serve as a testament to resilience, hope, and love. Against the backdrop of a world marred by conflict, Salem's sculptures and installations illuminate a path towards compassion, inviting viewers to reconsider the potential of art to instigate positive change.

21 December 2023

My work has always been bound with my experience in the world- as a woman, as a child, as an Israeli, With strong connection to nature, earth and chemical processes.

It was during the pandemic struck, when I was on my exchange program in London, the garden of Europe, when I understood that my attraction towards nature was my entering point to the art world the meeting of two materials – body and earth.

I am moved by the moment in which two foreign materials meet and become something new in the world, something joint. Because if grass can live inside plaster, duckweed can survive in epoxy, scotch sponges can turn to delicate fireflies, and a drum set can grow blue synthetic grass out of it, then maybe someday people will be able to live with each other too.

Making these strange irregular connections that don't make sense, is my way to prove that nothing is an impossibility. And even the strongest eldest walls we grew up against, can be shattered. On my trip to London, one of the things that stole my attention most was the locked square gardens of Notting Hill. I remember walking in the neighborhood for the first time, admiring a beautiful garden, then realizing it was locked. I kept walking by another garden and another one, each one lovelier than the other, all are empty. The idea that I can’t enter a garden seemed so bizarre to me. In retrospect, I understand it brought me back to the feeling of division and walls back home in Israel. Since then, fences have become a recurring theme in my works- the possibility to break through it, to change its shape and thereby its meaning, to build something new from it- as I did in my last exhibition. It was a very difficult year for Israel. Democracy had faced a serious threat when the Prime Minister tried to carry out a government coup. All over the country people went on the streets to protest the negation of rights and transformation to Dictatorship. The hatred between Israel's right and left has reached a frightening place. That is when I did “Images-Fireflies”, an exhibition that offered to choose love instead of hate. This exhibition was inspired by the book “Survival of the Fireflies” by Georges Didi-Huberman, which display the sparkle of the fireflies as a metaphor for effort, passion and humanity. The book is showing that throughout the most horrible immoral stages of time, those qualities had survived, it suggest an image of individual hope and desire, and seeks for love. I did this exhibition a few weeks before the war in Israel-Palestine started. People were killed, women were raped, children were taking as hostages, and it goes on.

Seeing and hearing all of those makes it very difficult to have faith in humanity. But I still believe in those little signals of light and intend to keep searching for them.

The desire to have a different outlook on current global atmospheres is one that ungently arises. Rather than focus on its cruelties, I instead delve into the unbroken belief that we humans can do better and that, despite all, there is still a place for love, understanding, and compassion. The artist I brought today shares this same belief. Anai Salem is an Israeli-French artist who recently escaped the war in Israel and settled in Paris, and she brings a refreshing perspective through her art that illuminates hope, resilience, and love.


"I grew up in Israel, a place where you are trained from childhood to beware of terror attacks, where there’s always a threat of war, and where civilians hate each other. For me, becoming an artist and surrounding myself with other artists, between one gallery and the other, is a way to see the good and beautiful where there is so much ugliness."


Images-Fireflies by Anai Salem. Photo by Daniel Hanoch

Anai Salem's work is a combination of sculpture and ready-made elements that are distorted into unrecognizable forms. This intriguing juxtaposition challenges the familiar, causing it to lose its known purpose and shape and transform into something entirely new. Drawing inspiration from artists such as Phyllida Barlow, Louise Bourgeois, Mona Hatoum, Michael Dean, Karla Black, Mike Nelson, Marianne Berenhaut, Huguette Caland, Emma Hart, and Richard Tuttle, her works have a strong realistic surrealism influence. When you analyze Anai's body of work, you can see the unmistakable connections evident in the selection of materials. For example, she chose blue synthetic grass after working with real live grass for several years to create a striking contrast and evoke a sense of illogical beauty.


Salem's work was showcased in the "Images-Fireflies" exhibition at the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, Israel, the same year democracy in Israel faced a serious threat when the Prime Minister tried to carry out a government coup. The exhibition was a sculpture-installation project inspired by Georges Didi-Huberman's "Survival of the Fireflies," curated by Lital Marcus Morin, and ran from August 16 to September 13, 2023. It ingeniously utilized the sparkle of fireflies as a metaphor for resilience, passion, and humanity, particularly in the face of challenging and immoral periods. The sculptures presented were made from scotch dish-scrubbing sponges standing on floor lamps and radiating their luminance above seemingly weighty sculptures constructed from garden fences, adorned with blue synthetic grass sewn onto metal and plaster cast. And, despite their appearance, they were actually filled with nothing but air. This prompted contemplation on the concept of filling and emptying the stomach with air.


Images-Fireflies by Anai Salem. Photo by Daniel Hanoch

"A few weeks after the exhibitions closed, the war in Israel-Palestine started. People were killed, women were raped, children were taken as hostages, and it goes on. Seeing and hearing all of those makes it very difficult to have faith in humanity. But I still believe in those little signals of light and intend to keep searching for them."

Another aspect of this exhibition is the way the artist constructed the sculptures themselves. Even though Salem is mostly a sculptor who works with wood saws and different machines, this time the whole project is sewn together on fence metal, meticulously crafted and very tightly together, showing two aspects of the artist's identity. One is her versatile skills in working with different materials and techniques, and the other is how she was able, almost without noticing, to express a vulnerability and deep defensive sense of protection that emerged from her personal experiences and outlook on human connections. Salem wishes this project" to touch the potential of rising above, breaking through the barrier, in whatever form it takes."


Images-Fireflies by Anai Salem. Photo by Daniel Hanoch

"I am somehow, still, one of those very naive people who actually believe art has the power to change the world. It is very bizarre to say after everything that I was exposed to." The artist told me. " I have seen the worst of human cruelty, and for a while I actually did start to wonder if I was mistaken. But I can’t accept that because it makes life too unbearable. I have to believe change is possible; I have to believe good things can still come."


Images-Fireflies by Anai Salem. Photo by Daniel Hanoch

The most impressive characteristic of Anai Salem's work is without a doubt its powerful call to embrace love and compassion in the face of adversity, and the "Images-Fireflies" exhibition served as a poignant plea for love and unity in the face of growing political turmoil and societal discord. Artists like Anai Salem make us question and believe that there is more to humans and that we can all choose to believe in tenderness and understanding. With work deeply personal, reflecting her experiences in the world and her biography,  it becomes a powerful example and source of inspiration within the contemporary art community and its audience.


If you are intrigued by the artist's work, go have a look at her website and interview on Patreon.

Cover image:

Images-Fireflies by Anai Salem. Photo by Daniel Hanoch.

Bio Image:

Image courtesy of Yul Shif and Nimrod Landesman.

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