For his new exhibition, ‘Cut the Conflict’, the Israeli-born graphic artist, Noma Bar, has turned himself into a peace maker who attempts to bring together nations that are engaged in a conflict.
One of the striking images in the show refers to the impasse between Palestine and Israel as the conflict drags on. It is very simple, yet conveys a powerful message of hope. From both countries’ flags, he has created the silhouette of a gun; the ‘trigger’, though, has been transformed into the head of a dove – a subtle, but smart adaptation. By showing the image at a 45 degree angle, the ‘gun’ becomes a peace dove spreading his wings, flying freely over the Israeli West Bank barrier.
Bar is renowned for his ‘double-take’ imagery. He plays with what he calls the ‘negative space’ and ‘positive space’, in which a second image can be discovered within the first image. Another example of his clever use of negative space is ‘Which Came First?’ In the swirl of a question mark we see the head and neck of a chicken appearing. The dot is changed into the shape of an egg. Working with negative and positive space means that Bar will look at things from more than one perspective.
“I try to consider the other side’s view, I see things that other’s don’t see, or won’t see,” he explains. “I feel as though I am the kid saying “but the king is naked” in the tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. Often I feel like that”. With his balanced perspective, it qualifies Bar to make piercing commentary on countries in conflict, and to expose their current and social situations.
The show is filled with propaganda symbols, peace signs, guns, rifles, bombs, skulls, military helmets, and barbed wire, to which Bar gives his own twist. It gives the show a certain poignancy. Whilst we shouldn’t have illusions that Bar’s work will resolve the conflicts between warring nations, his work does, though, breathe a sense of urgency, immediacy and call for action into these ever continuing situations. Through his work, he makes it possible for people to more easily relate to the conflicts, rather than trying to understand the diplomatic and political attempts to resolve such conflicts behind close doors.
200% met with Bar in the peaceful environment of Highgate Wood, his ‘office’, where he works every day from 9am until 3pm, to discuss his new show.
200%: For this show you approached people via Facebook, in countries currently engaged in conflict, to post materials, of up to 1cm in size, to your home in London. Were you overwhelmed by the response?
Noma Bar: Yes, I was. I have received, flags, maps, photos, children’s books, magazines, carpets, newspapers and even currency from North-Korea, which is actually illegal to send outside of the country. From this material, on one page, I created a meeting of two countries whom are in conflict such as Israel and Palestine, Greece and Turkey, India and Pakistan, US and Cuba. With my dog-shaped cutting machine, from the material sent to me, I cut it into shapes such as peace signs, guns, bombs etc. I’m forcing warring countries to live peacefully alongside each other.
200%: Your work is journalistically informed, and you address political subjects in your work. Does that stem from your childhood in Israel?
NB: Absolutely. As a child, I saw everything in one of the most controversial places in the world, Israel. I’ve seen corruption from both sides, Israel and Palestine. I was in the army for three years. I’ve been in all this crap, been part of systems to which I didn’t belong, but I had to be there. From 18 to 21 years of age, I was in the Israeli Navy, fighting with an M16 on my shoulders and sleep with a M16 under my pillow. If I’d chosen not to do it, I would have been incarcerated for three years. I have experienced the ‘men’s culture’ and seen what happens to men when they are together, how deadly and corrupt it can be, and I escaped from that. I’m almost forty years old. I see people in their twenties going out onto the streets and I totally relate and understand about their protest against corruption, against politicians’ cover-ups.
200%: Why are you striving to ‘strip down’ in your work?
NB: I want to tell a story as well as I can, in its more simplistic form. Although I haven’t completely analysed it, I think that the minimalism in my work may be a reaction to the saturated, visual world in which we live. There is so much, data / information; its everywhere, such as blogs, television, promos, and computer games, that it becomes almost surrealistic.
I have the ability and talent to strip everything back to a minimum, whether it’s a complex book by Murakami or a Hollywood film such as Pulp Fiction. I’m like an Roentgen machine, as I’m able to see the skeleton of the story immediately. I don’t like ‘overdoing’ especially when there is no idea behind it.
Also, I live a modest life in London, which is reflected in my work, that, I consider to be quite modest, also. Previously, I lived a modest life in Israel; living a life like that affects your thinking and behaviour. You realize that you don’t need a lot to survive. You need two or three things and you need to know what you like.
200%: Do you think due to the simplicity in your work, that recognition of simplicity is something universal, which may be an explanation as to why you’re so popular in around the world?
NB: Perhaps. I try to peel things back such that they become exposed, which is also reflected in my work. I’m not cheating in the use of 3D or renderings as I use my computer in an effortless way, meaning that, if I’m doing 3D, it’s a real 3D. In my work I’m trying to achieve some honesty with regard to the shapes, the messages behind the piece, and to provide something about which to ponder.
Noma Bar, Cut the Conflict, Rook and Raven Gallery, London. Until 21 December 2013.
Text: TS. Images: Noma Bar. From top to bottom: US-Iran, Israel-Palestine, Israel-Palestine, North Korea-South Korea, Greece-Turkey