Biography

Joseph Semah (24.02.1948) was born in Baghdad, Iraq. From 1950 he grew up in Tel Aviv, Israel. After finishing gymnasium, Semah studied at the University of Tel Aviv. At the same time he was developing his artistic venue.

Joseph Semah's grandfather, Hacham/Rabbi Sassoon Kadoori was the president of the Jewish community in Baghdad, who preached tolerance between the various religious denominations.

Semah’s work is best described as a profound and wide-ranging exploration of the links between language and a man made images. A scholar of many classical texts, he creates his own conceptual and pictorial world as part of his quest, placing human beings at the centre of this world. Semah seeks to understand people in the present day, in relation to communities with their own culture and history. His works stands in a long tradition of liberal humanistic thinking reaching from Baruch de Spinoza to the Frankfurter Schule.

In Semah's own words: 'I still read each and every art work on display through the tradition/history of the Hebrew language. In this context, one can say that each art work of mine is nothing but a footnote to my research, to my desire to understand what contemporary art actually means, what is meant by tolerance, what the meaning of being in exile is and what it means to be a guest.'

In an entirely individual way, Semah shows how the Hebrew's language and thus its tradition and its culture, influenced (in) directly, artists such as Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Barnett Newman and El Lissitzky. The result of his quest through the written words and images assume tangible form in his art. Semah knows how to make visible and palpable what cannot be named, producing images that can be read on different levels. For Semah, the ultimate meaning of an artwork depends on the intensive process of ‘reading’. He navigates superbly between conceptual art, minimal art and poetic expression. Through the compassionate nature of his art production, the social and narrative contexts are always tangible. Recently at Gemak in The Hague, Semah has shown works which are inspired by the legendary meeting of Martin Heidegger and Paul Celan. A meeting between a philosopher that never took a stance against the Nazi regime and a Jewish poet that survived the Holocaust. What they talked about was not recorded and inspired Semah to multiple impressive sculptures, large installations of drawings and paintings and a performance.