Zvi Suchet’s debut solo exhibition on Jewish Magical Realism

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By Jaime Uranovsky

Cape Town born Zvi Suchet, aka Marc Hoberman, has excelled as a photographer, author and publisher since he was a young boy.

In fact, his first book, which was published when he was only 12 -years-old and which centred around collectible stamps showing pictures of ancient Jewish coins, was inducted into one of the Smithsonian’s collections. Since then, over the last 25 years, his exploits include starting his own publishing company with his late father, Gerald Hoberman, under which Zvi has published more than 40 coffee-table photography books on a plethora of topics; becoming proficient in just about every form of photography be it aerial, wildlife, portraiture, fashion, street photography and more; being appointed the position of official photographer for the British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) for eight years, which led him to relocate to London for five of those; and moving to Colorado for two years experiencing life as what he calls “probably the world’s only Jewish cowboy.” 

This hardly constitutes a boring existence but, for Zvi, the most exciting thing is yet to come: his first-ever solo exhibition, titled The Radiant Portal: Jewish Magical Realism, will be opening on 1 December at the South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town where it will run for three months. This will be the world premiere of the collection which will later travel to Johannesburg and London and which Zvi then hopes to take to other international destinations such as Jerusalem. 

The collection of images has been described as completely unique and explores themes of Jewish mysticism through the use of visual photography and physical illustration with Photoshop. Zvi Suchet selects images which he has photographed in the past from his online image library (comprising 30 000+ images) and uses Photoshop to create a new scene. He adds, “There’s a magical feel that happens when you actually take separate elements and put them together because they don’t 100% exist in the same place but then they’re real so it kind of makes you go, ‘this feels interesting.’”

The story of how Zvi first envisioned the creation of these pieces is as interesting as the works themselves. From around the age of ten, Zvi found his mind concocting Jewish-themed scenes during morning prayers at Herzlia. “I used to zone out and think of visuals during prayers, but I really enjoyed it and I would find that the prayers had a soundtrack. When I was a young teenager I started journaling the things I saw in my mind. I started sketching.” 

He knew then that he would like to translate these pieces into art but was wise enough to know that he did not yet possess the skills to execute the project properly. He continues, “So I’ve waited all these years with it in the back of my mind that one day I’ll have the skills to put this together. And it was very special how this happened because it was literally like 2:00am or 3:00am in the morning on a week night in February this year. I just woke up in the middle of the night and I went to my laptop and I took out all my journals and I started making them. I stopped doing my other work I’ve just been doing this since then. I work every night.” 

Zvi works from the journals he kept as a teenager but also envisions new scenes while listening to a playlist of cantorial pieces which he has compiled, and which inspire him. He simply closes his eyes and imagines. Interestingly, it was when he had his bar mitzvah that he first started taking his mythical imaginings seriously. It was here when, despite never having been told about Zvi’s mental images, Rabbi Lerner told a story about an illiterate boy who attends Shul and yearns to pray but cannot access the language, so he recites the aleph-bet over and over again. Rabbi Lerner called this the most sincere form of prayer because the boy was praying with what he had in the way that he could, and said that in heaven the angels would turn the letters of the alphabet into prayers. This story had an immense effect on Zvi because he realised that this was his own genuine way of praying and connecting — through visuals. This is when he began journaling what he saw.

Perhaps most fascinating realisation for Zvi has been that what he sees is often already captured in the writings of Jewish mysticism. He explains, “when I started doing this work I had these ideas from my journals but I had to make actual sense of them with the Talmud because they were just scenes in my mind and I didn’t know whether they made sense — whether they connected to something, so I started doing a lot of research and I was really shocked that so many of my ideas fitted with what I read and that made me feel like I was on the right path. That was the universe or Hashem saying, ‘You’re doing good; carry on.’”

For him, this process stemmed from his love of visuals coupled with his strong Jewish identity. The latter deepened over the last two years during his time in Colorado because, for the first time, he was not surrounded by other Jewish people. He says, “I realised how much a part of my identity it was. So, I came back feeling much closer to Judaism.” Indeed, these pieces are special to him because they “come from a place of reverence and it’s a personal thing. Everything you create is personal in some way but this is genuinely personal. This is a lifelong thing. It’s part of a spiritual journey.”

Zvi hopes that this exhibition will ignite a love for and an emergence of new Jewish art and artists. The artist has identified the lack of Jewish art both in history and in contemporary society and seeks to contribute some strokes to the metaphorical canvas. Indeed, for him, religious symbolism is beautiful in that one creates something out of reverence. It emanates from the soul and it is for a higher purpose; through this, the work becomes elevated. He hopes that younger audiences will also be drawn to the work as he believes, “a lot of younger people identify very strongly with being Jewish and would love to have Jewish art in their home but there aren’t really options. It can be young and modern.”

For more visit www.zvisuchet.com.

To read the editor’s column for December/January click here

To read or download the December/January issue of the Chronicle in PDF click  here

To read the most read article of the November issue, click here

Portal to the Jewish Community: to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape Town with links to their websites, click here

Featured organisation of the month: The Jewish Community Services’ (JCS) activities are centered on relief for the poor and distressed in the Jewish community. They provide a full range of preventative, educative and supportive counselling, statutory services as well as material relief. Visit http://www.jcs.org.za  for more.

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