Suchet’s magic realism connects spiritual and physical world

  • ZviSuchetExhibition
Cape Town Rabbi Sam Thurgood says Zvi Suchet is able to connect physical and spiritual worlds through a style of magical realism portrayed in works currently on exhibition at the South African Jewish Museum.
by MOIRA SCHNEIDER | Dec 05, 2019

Speaking at the opening of The Radiant Portal: Jewish Magical Realism on Sunday, Thurgood said, “Judaism has so many rich metaphors, and he brings them to life through his art.”

“Through representing them visually,” says Thurgood, “they no longer remain evocative verbal metaphors. One is able to understand and conceptualise them so much better.”

Suchet is, in fact, fine-art photographer Marc Hoberman, who has embarked on a new path. Having built his reputation on glossy coffee-table travel books, he is now working under the nom de plume Zvi Suchet, looking inward and exploring his own spiritual journey.

Zvi is Marc’s Hebrew name, and Suchet his mother’s maiden name. His maternal grandfather was, in fact, Zvi Suchet.

Suchet’s debut exhibition, which runs at the museum until February, fulfils a life-long dream to produce a fine-art collection of Jewish-inspired imagery.

The exhibition showcases Suchet’s unique style of Jewish magical realism, a combination of photography and illustration exploring Jewish themes of identity and mystical symbolism. Described as “a unique and modern refresh of a centuries-old subject”, Suchet’s artworks are aimed at generating renewed interest in Jewish art and culture amongst a new generation.

He has aspired to publish coffee-table books since the age of five, following in the footsteps of his late father, renowned photographer Gerald Hoberman. He published his first book at the age of 12, consisting of photographs of stamps depicting ancient Jewish coins.

Schooled at Herzlia, Suchet has kept journals from the time of his Barmitzvah, pages of which have found their way into the exhibition and form rough sketches for some of the pieces.

“We used to have morning prayers,” he says. “I used to read things in the siddur, imagine all these visuals, and design artworks. But I wanted to wait until I felt I was mature enough to do it justice,” the 39-year-old reflects.

“I literally woke up at 03:00 one morning, couldn’t sleep, and the thought popped into my head, ‘Now’s the time.’” Since that day six months ago, he has been working “like crazy” to get the show on the road.

The photographs, some of which are taken in Jerusalem, some against his garage door, are composites, and include images of, for example, birds, foxes, and forests (drawn from his career as a wildlife photographer) that he has stored in his 40 000-strong image archive since his teenage years. “All the images are superimposed on the background, so it’s photography and digital illustration,” he says of the unique art form.

“You can’t tell 100% whether it’s a photograph, a painting, or an illustration – it doesn’t really fit neatly into any one of those boxes,” he says, alluding to the magical realism of the exhibition’s title.

“It’s digital fine art,” he clarifies, adding, “I always try to run away from the term ‘digital’, but when you use it subtly and correctly, it’s an art form.”

One of the pieces, The Rabbi of Port Louis, which inspired Suchet’s new direction, features a rabbi looking out to sea. The sea is that of Port Louis, Mauritius, with the image of the rabbi superimposed on it.

“There’s a very strange gap in the market for aesthetically relatable Jewish art for people today,” he comments. “It’s such a visually beautiful, rich subject.

“I love the idea of creating art out of reverence. The Old Testament has some of the most amazing symbolism in the world – there’s nothing like it.”

In addition, Suchet writes on an exhibition panel that “For inspiration while producing my work, I often listen to recordings of legendary voices such as [chazzanim] Moshe Koussevitzky, Frank Birnbaum, and Yitzchak Meir Helfgot.”

Suchet has had no formal training, instead his knowledge comes from watching his dad, and on-the-job experience. He was given cameras at the age of five, and the pair travelled the world during school vacations, taking in places such as the Amazon Jungle, the Antarctic, and Cape to Cairo.

The Boys of Sabbath, taken in Jerusalem, resonates with Suchet’s own experience. “I’ve always really loved Shabbat,” he states, “especially as a child, sitting with adults at the table and being included in the big world.

“I found that very magical, so I thought of the three faces of Shabbat as I remember it – wonder, learning, and imagining – with these children.”

In another piece, Lehadlik Ner Shel Shabbat, 14 different images have been worked into one. The exhibition’s main piece, The Radiant Portal, is set in a derelict mansion in Kolmanskop, an abandoned diamond mining town in Namibia.

“In its day, it was an incredibly opulent town,” Suchet says. “The symbolism is so beautiful. The people left, and the sand filled up inside these homes – the sands of time.

“This painting is about the life phases of a Jewish boy, becoming a man, becoming an old man, with abba [father] and ima [mother] standing on the side watching the life unfold.” Three interleading rooms in the mansion serve as metaphors for the different ages.

“I always thought that nothing shows [the passage of] time better than a picture of Kolmanskop. With total patience, the sand rises, and takes over these manmade things.”

As opposed to raw photography, the artistry here is more about collecting images, designing the piece, and compositing, says Suchet of his creations. “Normally photography is totally instant – you have to wait for the moment, catch the moment. With this I can actually create the moment.”

Suchet hopes to take the exhibition to New York, London, and Sydney next year.

At the opening, museum director Gavin Morris described the work as “a major departure from what we have come to expect from Marc Hoberman”.

Morris paid tribute to Thurgood, who he said had been “a mentor, advisor, and teacher to Suchet, offering insight and advice to him as he explored the themes presented in the works we see here tonight”.

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