Past Exhibitions

The Seven Abdulkarims | Elham Rokni

curators: Shir Meller-Yamaguchi & Anat Turbowitz

Elham Rokni’s exhibition The Seven Abdulkarims, comprised of a video work and drawings, is based on a project in which she collected folktales among Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers and work migrants. After their translation, the stories that were transmitted to the artist were classified and catalogued in the Israel Folktale Archives (IFA) at the University of Haifa. By the very act of collecting, recording, and archiving the stories, Rokni grants recognition to the cultural world of these marginalized groups, and exposes it to the Israeli public. In her video work, the artist recounts a contemporary personal story of life as a refugee, turning a spotlight towards migration as a mental state of rootlessness. In a visual language that conflates documentary photography, staged scenes, drawings, and animation of the folktales she collected, Rokni goes back and forth between reality and fantasy, weaving a dialogue between different languages and cultures.

Rokni, who immigrated to Israel from Iran with her family at a young age, appears in the video as herself and her presence imbues the piece with a personal-biographical dimension. The drawings featured in the exhibition are based on the stories she collected, painted in a naive style characteristic of fairytale illustrations and in vibrant colors reminiscent of Persian miniatures, alluding to the artist’s own split cultural world. She looks at Israeli society from two different perspectives that resonate with questions of belonging – from outside and from within. Although Rokni moved to Israel as an immigrant, thanks to her Jewishness she was immediately accepted as a new immigrant (Ola Hadasha), was assimilated into society, and got to know the nuanced physical and human landscape of Israel very well. These two points of view allow her to authentically empathize with the migrants and at the same time, step out of her own personal experience and create a remote and surrealistic narrative framework that offers a more universal view of new and old immigrants, and the mental and cultural chasm between them.

Elham Rokni’s exhibition The Seven Abdulkarims comes to the Wilfrid Israel Museum after it was held in early 2018 at the Center for Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv (CCA), curated by Sergio Edelsztein. The exhibition is accompanied by the artist’s book The Iblis, the Girl, the Sultan and the Lion’s Tail – which includes 18 folktales from Eritrea and Sudan alongside the artist’s drawings.