Calligraphic Animals

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2023

Shay Zilberman’s Calligraphic Animals and Untitled collages feature imaginary totems and hybrid creatures that were created, not with a calligrapher’s pen, but with a pair of scissors. Working by hand, Zilberman meticulously and seamlessly combined different animals parts. His images base themselves on pre-digital representations of culture – traces of memory as found on the pages of photography books and nature guides. The result: an amalgam of mythological monsters and newer fantastic beings, influenced by Islamic calligraphy and miniature paintings.

Extracting his source images from their original factual contexts, Zilberman takes them into the realm of fantasy and conjures up an imaginary, mysterious, and possibly futuristic natural world of cloning and genetic engineering. His radical “mutations” are disturbing, but their beauty and swirling intricacy are also mesmerizing. Although black-and-white, they are surprisingly luminous, their light shining out of the printed photographs. Zilberman scoured his nature books for what he calls “symmetrical” images involving “eye contact” between the lens and the animal’s gaze, saying, “The moment an animal is photographed head-on, it is possible to lock gazes with it, and that precise moment remains, connecting the work and the viewer.” 

 Curator: Talia Amar

From the group exhibition: Facing the Wild – The Jungle Book Revisited