Nirit Takele is an Ethiopian-born Jew who was born and raised in Ethiopia until 1991, when she made Aaliyah – the journey of moving to Israel – alongside 14,000+ Ethiopian Jews, including her family. However, this was no ordinary relocation; they left under a covert operation called ‘Operation Solomon’, led by the Israeli government, with an objective of secretly transporting thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel in a time limit of 35 hours. Years later Nirit, who resides in Tel Aviv, Israel, is now an award-winning artist, having exhibited her work in many prestigious fairs and award shows. Mary Asseratte, a contributor to The Reporter, caught up with Nirit at her first European solo exhibition at the Addis Fine Art project space in London. Excerpts:
Question: First and foremost I’d like to congratulate you on your first solo European exhibition. I can only imagine the pride and excitement of seeing your ideas and creations travel from a canvas in Tel Aviv to its own solo exhibition in London.
Nirit Takele: Thank you, yes I feel so proud, and I’m filled with gratitude. Seeing all these people here on my opening night, viewing my work, is a special feeling, it can’t be replicated.
I want to touch base on your background and how the circumstances led you to where you are now. At such a young age to be uprooted and brought to a new country where the only familiarity you share is religion, how did it play a role in your art and did you ever find yourself at a young age using art as means to keep the memory of your life pre-Israel alive?
I started drawing at a young age; however, I wouldn’t look at what I drew and describe it as art. It was not until I was a bit older, I started studying other painters and their work that I began experimenting and creating pieces I was proud to show (laughs). However, yes in some form I do draw to not only keep the memory of my life in Ethiopia alive but also as a form of acceptance. At a young age I had to accept that I was now an immigrant and although Israel is my home, I don’t want to diminish the importance of my status as an Ethiopian immigrant in Israel.
You’re so talented I’m almost certain the work you produced when you were young, is worthy of its own exhibition. Looking at other professions, not many people get a sense of satisfaction from the work they produce, for you, what need does creating art satisfy in you?
I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. That is the need it satisfies. It is a feeling of being true to myself, my identity, passion; it’s everything. I wouldn’t be me if I weren’t expressing myself through a form of art.
Looking at your pieces, past, and present, your work seems to be layered, and that to me is what pulls me into the picture, it is as if it transforms the painting into a physical being in front of me. How do you create this illusion, what materials do you use?
I identify as a colorist, color is a big part of my work. I love to create new ones by experimenting with a variety of different colors. A lot of my work has layers and build-ups. I like for my work to look vibrant and by building the colors onto the canvas, I can create the illusion.
Your latest project is called Flying with Angels, which I find to be a very interpretational title. What was your reasoning behind the title?
If you look at the painting, the woman is sleeping but is also being carried in the air by these angel figures, she’s dreaming of flying with angels. What is your interpretation?
For me, I tied it to Operation Solomon. The woman is an embodiment or representation of all the passengers, and the angels is that of the people who carried out the operation.
That’s an excellent way of seeing it. That’s what I love about Art; it’s never one view, no one eye views art the same as another’s eye.
I know many artists could be reluctant in singling out a piece of work that they are most proud of because not every piece created stems from the same place emotionally or mentally, it’s what makes each piece unique and individual so to single one out from the other would be unfair. However, I want to ask which piece from your latest project was the most complex/ drew the most emotion from you as an artist?
For me, it was the ‘Exposed Identity’ piece. Its a painting of an Ethiopian woman wearing a Netela- a traditional scarf usually worn around a woman’s head- she is also holding a necklace that has the star of David around her neck. She’s not standing and openly holding the necklace; she’s sitting on the floor and covering it. That woman is a representation of my mother and the many women who had to hide their religion before coming to Israel and then only had their faith once they arrived, no belongings, little money but they had their faith.
If I had to choose one more, it would be ‘Beandlay.’ Each Ethiopian tribe is represented in the painting, and they’re all linked arm to arm with each other in a circle. It’s a representation of unity, a message I’m happy is being shared in Ethiopia.