Visual arts | Defeating the forces of Babylon through love and soccer

Ido Shemi’s art and fandom

Tel Aviv | A rooftop apartment on a dusty Tel Aviv street filled with small manufacturing plants and building-supply stores is as good a place as any from which to launch a self-styled cultural and social revolution. The setting lacks the romance of the Cuban Sierra Maestra mountains and China’s Jinggangshan region, birthplaces to two revolutions, but Israeli artist Ido Shemi’s project is less devouring of its heroes. Given the primacy he grants humor, creativity and soccer (kadooregel in Hebrew), the art, concerts and radio show that form part of Shemi’s mission stand better chances of success.

“Loser” reads one of the Hapoel Tel Aviv player’s jerseys in this familiar tableau of supporter angst. (© Ido Shemi. Used by permission.)

During a recent visit, Shemi, an autodidact, described his path to art as developing through his lifelong love for Hapoel Tel Aviv and the whimsical banners he created for games. He grew up on Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra, on Israel’s northern coastal border with Lebanon, a community whose main sources of livelihood were until recently the banana and avocado orchards. A “punk” and individualist in a communal society, he moved to Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and artistic center.

For more than a decade he has been a mainstay of the music and club scene through playing in a rock band, artistic collaborations and the erstwhile Dynamo Dvash (“Dynamo Honey”) nightclub. Shemi turned to art-making in the past five years and within a short time succeeded in showing his work in some of Israel’s leading galleries and museums, as well as in Italy and China.

The artist’s home page features a figure in the red shirt of Hapoel Tel Aviv struggling to pull a stubborn donkey laden with boxes. Printed on the boxes are the words “Fragile. Artist’s Career. Handle with Care.”

Art and soccer are at the heart of Shemi’s vision. (See the gallery at artwanted.com for additional images.)

The works in painting, photo collage, mosaic, poster, video and sculpture critique Israeli society but do so playfully and with a desire to improve conditions. This is evident in the installations “Guards of Israel” and “Here Come the Messayha Sound Systems” (Alon Segev Gallery, 2004) and in the sculptures “Colonel Greedy” and “Golem Becomes Boss.”

Shemi has created a group of figures he describes as “Promised Land Adventures (or the Quest for the Sacred Trophy).” Unlike dispatches from their predecessors in the Book of Numbers, reports from Shemi’s “spy club”—an imaginary football team sent to bring back impressions beyond the Jordan River—concern not the strength of the Canaanite fortifications but the worlds of Israeli popular culture and soccer (see Shemi’s statement of philosophy).

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