Photo: Aad Hoogendorn 2020

Life? Or Theatre? A Personal Biography

I was born in Haifa in 1974. My father studied physics and worked as an engineer in the weapon industry, but spent most of his free time on artistic activities like painting and making experimental films with a super-eight camera. He used to entertain my younger brother and me with lasers and night-vision devices, while my mother, a poet and a housewife, passionately documented her nightmares on a green Olivetti typewriter. As part of our daily household activities, we modelled clay figures and made potato stamps. And of course I shouldn’t forget to mention all the art books of my parents that I went through, from Disney to Kandinsky, from pop art to German expressionism.

Therefore, I guess, the wish to become an artist budded in me long before I could think about art in terms of a profession or career. From early childhood, I perceived art as an integral part of my daily routine, like eating and sleeping. It might sound like a romantic view of art and life; and so it is, I admit.  Art, for me, was a heavenly, pure ideal, and at the same time a way to escape from unpleasant feelings (as a result of the divorce of my parents, for example) or to avoid confrontation with reality (it’s easier to make a drawing than to ask for attention or help).

But when I took the conscious decision, in 1995, to move to Jerusalem to study art at the Bezalel Academy, I bumped into life and also met Mr. Death. Many dreams and ideals were shattered during this period of my life. Being an art student was not as pleasant as I had hoped it would be. I became insecure. All the values and opinions I had developed over the years about art – what’s ‘good’ and what’s ‘bad’ – were put in doubt. Jerusalem, the city I loved, became a ‘mind – field’. Every day I asked myself: will it be me in the next terror attack? I didn’t enjoy playing a Russian roulette. 

During this period I have also experienced a personal loss. My boyfriend died in a diving accident at the Blue Hole. So when I finally got my Bachelor degree (cum laude) in 1999, I didn’t feel happy or excited to be starting my life. I was anxious and tired. I was twenty-five years old but I felt like a hundred. I wanted to step out of the life role I was playing; is this my Leben? Oder Theater?

This brought me to the decision to move away from my father & motherland – ‘new place, new chances’, as the saying goes. And so, in September 2001, I arrived in Rotterdam to continue my art studies at the Piet Zwart Academy. In 2003 I obtained a Master’s degree with a presentation of the Displeasure City, inspired by the Aristotelian concept of the the Poetics and the Greek Tragedy.

Life in Rotterdam started almost like a fairy tale. I fell in love with the immigration lawyer who helped me obtain my Dutch resident permit. Florimond, I discovered later, is also a poet. Between 2012 and 2016, we worked as  co-founders and editors of the Dichtkunstkrant, a free annual newspaper on poetry, art and current affairs.

Rotterdam became my hometown. I love this city because it gives me the feeling of being ‘local’ and ‘international’ at the same time. Since living here, I have felt there are fewer borders and less anxiety within me. I can travel freely, talk to strangers and model their portraits in live sessions. By studying their faces, I am no longer afraid of my own reflection. My life (and art) has become inseparable from the stories and lives of my fellow citizens.

Text and image copyright © Efrat Zehavi 2021