This past summer I had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem and visit the fine arts wing of the Israel Museum. Among the contemporary art in the gallery, I was most drawn to Adi Nes’ oversized, cinematic, and impressively detailed photographs. In a country rife with religious dramas, Nes constructs scenes that use biblical symbolism to provide a social commentary of Israeli politics. One of his most striking photographs, “Last Supper,” features modern day Israeli soldiers posed as Jesus and his disciples as da Vinci famously painted them during the Renaissance. In Israel, I often saw young soldiers patrolling checkpoints and carrying large guns. Seeing “Last Summer” made me think about their role in Israel as both a saving Jesus figure and violent Judas figure. It also made me think about the soldiers’ vulnerability – Nes created the photo knowing that for soldiers in a war zone, any meal may be their last. Nes says,
“I wanted to show the person behind the soldier, his vulnerability and fragility. I wanted to show that the moment one puts on a uniform, one cuts a contract which includes the potential of death, and adopts the accompanying fear.”
Adi Nes’ photographs also address sexual culture and identity. As a member of the LGBT community, Nes is interested in the contrasting stances on homosexuality in Israel. Israel houses many religious communities that express hostility towards homosexuality. At the same time, Tel Aviv is considered one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world. The Israeli government has backed many LGBT rights initiatives, but social conservatives maintain a strong presence in their parliament. In his soldier series, Nes photographs Israeli soldiers who appear both hyper-masculine and homoerotic. He explores what it means to be masculine and what it means to be gay, subverting commonly held notions about both characteristics. Ultimately he seeks to uncover a universal humanism beyond barriers that divide us, such as national or sexual identity. With so much commentary about the turbulence in the Middle East, Nes provides a thought-provoking perspective that only an artist could achieve.