The Graduates: Roee Cohen, 27, Haifa

Institution: WIZO Haifa, photography department; work: Untitled.

Ellie Armon Azoulay
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Ellie Armon Azoulay

In his surprising work Roee Cohen returned to historical moments in local culture and in the history of photography and representation. Some of these moments became formative after the fact, others remained marginal and have received a new place by means of the work. And although during the period of his studies Cohen behaved like an artist who photographs stories and communities directly, he also began to deal with rewriting, citation, appropriation and distortion.

After a period of documenting refugees from Eritrea who reside in Israel, and the complexity of their identity and status, Cohen began to deal with his own national identity (“How do I define it and the connection to the soil on which I live”). Naturally, he arrived at the beginning of the Zionist movement, which is how he discovered the first political photomontage in history the one that documents the encounter between Theodor Herzl and the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Due to an error at the time of the shooting, which took place near Mikveh Israel on October 28, 1898, Herzl remained outside the frame. He was photographed again on a roof in Jaffa, and his image was “planted” into the original photo.

In his exhibition Cohen presented the second photo of Herzl on the roof, “the environment that was chosen in order to complete the construction of the historic occasion.” Afterward, he says, he looked for a similar event that took place in another country fighting for recognition. That is how he found a studio photo of the members of the Arab Higher Committee, which was shot in 1938 on the Seychelles Islands, where they were exiled by the British Mandatory government.

Cohen sought to draw attention to the fact that the background of the photo is a British forest landscape. To emphasize and exaggerate this comic and absurd element, he replaced the photographed landscape with a painting by John Constable, in which a boy is seen prostrating himself on the soil of England.
Another work centered around the killing of the child Mohammed al-Dura, which has become one of the symbols of the second intifada. To avoid dealing with the ongoing controversy surrounding this case, Cohen did not use the original picture. Instead, he constructed an entirely surrealistic computer simulation, in which he ignored the signs revealing the direction of fire, and even removed from the wall the bullet-pocked stones that constituted primary legal evidence.

In another work Cohen dealt with the discovery of the bones of Avshalom Feinberg, one of the founders of NILI (a secret, pro-British spy network during the Ottoman period), and with the legendary story about the palm tree that ostensibly grew from the pits found in his pockets. In this work, which is called “Jawasis” (“spies” in Arabic), he displayed polished pits, painted white.

In addition to these works Cohen presented a video work in which a choir is seen singing “Hatikva”; in the center stands a television on which Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is seen singing the national anthem. Cohen used a clip posted on YouTube in which Lieberman sang at a party meeting, and adapted the choir’s performance accordingly.

Work by Roee Cohen.