Critics’ Picks

Masha Zusman, Untitled, 2012, ballpoint pen and woodburning pen on wood, 45 1/2 x 57 3/10”.

Tel Aviv

Masha Zusman

Inga Gallery of Contemporary Art
7 Bar Yochai Street
June 7–August 3, 2013

Masha Zusman’s latest exhibition, “Nadir, the Opposite of Zenith,” presents nine paintings inspired by her encounter in Jerusalem with a Palestinian Orthodox woman covered in a black burka with only her eyes exposed. In a conversation with her, Zusman learned that the woman was, despite her guarded appearance, an open and liberal individual—a single mother and Reiki healer respectful of her religious surroundings. In these paintings, created in a laborious and time-consuming process with colorful ballpoint pens on large wooden shipping crates, Zusman investigates notions of conflict and perception. Paying homage to anonymous crafts-makers, Zusman did not title the works, suggesting a story that belongs to everyone and no one.

The resulting patterns are inspired by those found on Persian Safavid rugs from the Isfahan region and traditional European tapestries from the Middle Ages, combining abstract color fields with arabesques and floral figurations. For example, upon first entering the gallery, one sees two works that are painted completely black and decorated with glossy roses and stems. Installed next to these are two beautifully crafted paintings of foliage and exotic green flowers that are partially covered by matte black spray paint, allowing only glimpses into the works’ enchanting worlds. Elsewhere in the gallery, intricate and colorful landscapes appear, which emphasize two main elements in the show: the Mediterranean cypress, a symbol of mourning in the Middle East, and roses, which always appear in Zusman’s works in full blossom right at their final moment before decay.

“Nadir” is originally an Arabic word meaning “opposite.” In sciences such as geophysics, it refers to the direction below a particular location; in this exhibition, it applies to the personal perspective of the viewer, the artist, and the burka-covered woman. Zusman seeks to reach the spiritual sphere of the “zenith” by examining intense physical labor, which questions the duration of consciousness, while combining materials that elevate the mundane.