Critics’ Picks

David Adika, Untitled (Figurine ‘Mizrachi,’ No. 001 Red), 2020, ink-jet print, 49 1/2 x 33 3/4".

David Adika, Untitled (Figurine ‘Mizrachi,’ No. 001 Red), 2020, ink-jet print, 49 1/2 x 33 3/4".

Tel Aviv

David Adika

Braverman Gallery
33 Eilat St.
February 6–April 30, 2020

Bourekas are popular Israeli comedies and melodramas, produced in the 1960s and ’70s, that centered on conflicts between the country’s earlier Ashkenazi (Jewish Eastern European) and more recent Mizrachi (Jewish Arab) immigrants by trafficking in ethnic stereotypes. The archetypal bourekas film, Sallah Shabbati (1964), portrays the eponymous main character as backwards and lazy, a grotesque parody of a Mizrachi man.

The aesthetics of caricature permeate Israeli artist David Adika’s current exhibition at Braverman Gallery’s sprawling new space. On display is “Black Market” (all works 2020), a series of photographs of Orientalist figurines produced by Tel Aviv–based manufacturers around the time that bourekas were popular. Wearing “traditional” dress and jewelry, and painted with red lips, the figurines, which can now be found at local flea markets and antique stores, reflect an exoticized and homogeneous view of blackness. For Adika, who is himself Mizrachi, these dolls symbolize a broader tendency to distort images of the other.

Photographed against blank backgrounds, the kitschy figurines appear to transform into archaeological specimens from the early years of national identity formation. While their patinas of cracks and scuffs attest to the objects’ age, Adika has imbued the statuettes with a sense of life. Shot at eye level and in natural light, the two subjects of Untitled (figurine, ‘Mizrachi’, no. 009 Back) are dynamically posed. Behind them, an illustration of a palm tree sourced from Mariam Bartov’s racially charged children’s book Little Alikama (1948) creates a narrative of a nondescript Orient. Illustrations from Bartov’s book, which features a Yemeni boy depicted in blackface, also decorate the gallery’s walls—a miserable mise en abyme. Adika’s photographs are testaments to the endurance of disturbing elements of the Israeli cultural imagination, even as their by-products are left in the dustbin of history.