Russian-Israeli artist dreams of Israel’s desert landscapes


When she was still living in Moscow, the artist Natalia Zourabova began to dream about Israel’s desert landscapes, vast expanses, warmth and dry earth tones.

The colors and tones of the desert are front and center in Zourabova’s latest collection of oil paintings, “Arad,” named for the small city on the border of the Negev and Jewish deserts, now showing at Artport, Tel Aviv’s contemporary art center.

The huge wall-sized paintings don’t actually depict desert scenes, but are heavily inspired by the seven years Zourabova spent in Beersheba, Israel’s southern capital, where she first lived when she came to Israel.

There are also the colors and themes of the city of Arad, where Zourabova spent four months in the developed town in 2018 as part of an artist residency.

“In Beersheba, I always heard about Arad as a nicer city,” Zourabova said. “I thought of the city as a kind of dream, and when I got there, I realized that there was something to that utopia.”

Arad is known as Israel’s first planned city, conceived in the 1920s and more fully established in 1962 as an Israeli development town.

From artist Natalia Zourbova’s exhibition ‘Arad’ at the contemporary art center Artport Tel Aviv, until April 15, 2023 (Courtesy of Artport)

By chance, Arad’s population grew significantly with immigration from the former Soviet Union but its population is diverse, Zourabova said, with Jews, Bedouins and Black Hebrews, as well as new immigrants.

“There’s this architecture that suits the desert, and all these different people that live there,” Zourabova said. “But it’s an urban dream that hasn’t been achieved.”

Artist Natalia Zourbova has a new exhibition, ‘Arad,’ at Artport Tel Aviv, on display until April 15, 2023 (Courtesy of Artport)

The time Zourabova spent in Arad was fruitful, leading her to create prints and works on paper of everything she was seeing and considering in the desert city.

“I knew I had to do something with this dream,” Zourabova said. “It was my goal and I got there, especially when I live in Beersheba, which is such a hard place.”

And yet, Arad remained a dream for her, a utopia that was not fulfilled because the city she dreamed of did not exist completely as she had hoped. The six works that resulted from Zourabova’s images of Arad are named because of those hopes and dreams.

From artist Natalia Zourbova’s exhibition ‘Arad’ at the contemporary art center Artport Tel Aviv, until April 15, 2023 (Courtesy of Artport)

“The exhibition is a kind of dream, about a kind of city in this country, and all this is based on my observations,” she said.

The paintings are lifelike, much larger than Zourabova’s usual canvases, and more like her previous work, before her life in Israel, when she worked in theater design in Moscow and Berlin.

Zourabova spent seven years in theater design but turned to solo art when she came to Israel. However, she found herself wanting to work on more mundane pieces a few years ago, the kind of imagery that viewers feel they could walk into, if possible.

The images in these pictures are familiar from almost anywhere in Israel, the open-air fruit and vegetable market located in every city and town, the local mall, as well as the old hotels in the middle of Arad, and other places. .

From artist Natalia Zourbova’s exhibition ‘Arad’ at the contemporary art center Artport Tel Aviv, until April 15, 2023 (Courtesy of Artport)

“I still love the south,” said Zourabova, who has lived in Jaffa for the past decade. “It is the ideal, the Israeli ideal as represented by [David] Ben-Gurion,” the Israeli prime minister who moved to the Negev when he resigned.

One of the works, a nod to Russian romance and the Russian countryside in winter, inspired Zourabova to tackle 3D-printed dioramas, another area of ​​creativity she neglected for a while, harkening back to her theater days.

She first made one for the Russian work, and eventually decided to make one for each piece, representing where it was first shown in a painting.

“It made me very happy to work like this,” Zourabova said. “What I am thinking is to understand and interpret.”

“Arad” at Artport, 8 Rechov Hamal, Tel Aviv, until April 15.

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