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.

Solo exhibitions since 2010 (selection)
2023 - In preparation
De Domijnen, 16 december 2023 -
On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) V - Between Graveyard and Museum's Sphere
Joseph Sassoon Semah

Literarisches Colloquium Berlin, Freies Universität Berlin, 2 - 5 March 2023
Transformations of Celan in Contemporary Art, Joseph Sassoon Semah and Alexander Polzin

2021/ 23
On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV -How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist - [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia] (12 September 2021 - February 2023) with 11 exhibitions, 7 performances, 8 debates, 8 video's

Over Vriendschap ... About Friendship ... Kunstmuseum Den Haag, October 2020 - 29 Augustus 2021
Aul Celan -Gerhard-Marcks-Haus (Bremen), Galerie Ohnesorghe (Bremen)
Retrospective 'Being Touched by an Angel Just Before Birth De Domijnen (all spaces) - Sittard, October 2019 - February 2020
On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III - The Third GaLUT -Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, September 2019 - January 2020 - 36 places
On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) II - The Guardians of the Door
(Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam- lecture and 5 performances), De Nieuwe Kerk, openingsperformance and artistic intervention, Joods Historisch Museum - exhibition and Gallery talk, Goethe-Institut, exhibition and debate
Art Market Budapest, exhibition and openings performance
2015 Being touched by an angel just before birth - Galerie Nouvelles Images, Den Haag
2015 Canakale Biennial, Turkey In Memory of a sacred Tree
2013 72 Privileges [.....]: 'It is precisely this balance between exile and the emotion of the privileged which forms the unique originality of our Breathing in Reverse. As will be clear already, there is no past or future in Exile, only an immediate present, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India
2011 Tracing Martin Heidegger's Hut and Paul Celan's Clouds [...],, Gemak, Den Haag
2010 After Paul Celan. Tango and Fugue. Goethe Institut, Rotterdam; Maison Descartes, Amsterdam
2009 Ich bin, der ich bin EHYeH ASheR EHYeH, Bremen, Gerhard-Marcks-Haus
2007 Next Year in Jerusalem, a project in 12 churches and 12 cities, Niedersachsen, Germany
2006 Read Full Text, Museum van Bommel van Dam, Venlo


2021-2023 On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV -How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist - [The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia]

2019/2020. Performances On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III - The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam
2018 Performance "Corridors:" - Castle Groeneveld
2017 Performances On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) II - The Guardians of the Door in Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam
2017 Art Market Budapest - Opening performance On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) II - The Guardians of the Door
2015 Kunst und Judentum: "Hebraïsche" Fussnoten zur zeitgenössischen Kunst mit Joseph Semah. Bode-Museum, Berlijn.
2012 Performance with 72 children, Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Kochi, India
2010 Amsterdam van boven- Amsterdam van beneden, 4 May solo-performance on
The roof of the oldest Observatorium of West-Europe, Felix Meritis
2008 Performance Breathing in reverse, Hannover
Group exhibitions since 2005 (selection)
2022 Kunstmuseum Den Haag, Exhibition Lurie & Vostell, Art after Auschwitch, april mei 2022
2021 Art Market Budapest
2021 NATURE AND AESTHETICS, REDEFINED Landgoed Nardinclant- Amsetrdamgarden 12 September-24 oktober 2021
2021 PULCHRI-Studio
2021 UIT<>ZICHT, Povinciehuis Haarlem
2020/2021 Joods Historisch Museum : Een graf in de wolken, December 2020- May 2021
2019 Lumen Travo - 26 January 2019 -
2019 SEGRETE Traccedi Memoria, curated by Virginia Monteverde, Genua, 24 January-9 February 2019
2018 Fondazione Prada- Venetië - Machines à Penser - curated by Dieter Roelstraete,- Biennale Architecture, 26 May -25 November 2018
2017 Galerie Nouvelles Images, 1 juli-26 augustus 2017
2016 -2017 Heilig Schrift-Tanach, Bijbel, Koran- Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht,
2015 On War and Peace, o.a. Joseph Semah, Armando, Jef Diederen, Ger Lataster, Thom Puckey, Ton Slits, Shinkichi Jajiri, Museum Bommel van Dam
2014 Disasters of War, Joseph Semah, David Bade, Reinier Lucassen, Ilya Rabinovich, Ibrahim Quraishi, Kers Gallery, Amsterdam
2013 Flesh and Blood, Museum on the Seam, Socio-Polical Contemporay Art Museum, Jerusalem
2011 Een wereld vol verhalen, De Nieuwe Kerk i.s.m. Joods Historisch Museum

2009/2010 Martin- Gropius-Bau Berlijn Taswir islamitische bildwelten und moderne
2008 Dessins contemporains des Pays-Bas. Signifiants mourants: Joseph Semah, Hadassah Emmerich, Ni Haifeng. Parijs, Institut Neerlandais

2005 Den Haag Sculptuur, The garden oft he Palace, De Paleistuin Den Haag

2005 Respect! Forms of community, Contemporary art from the Netherlands,

Publications since 2006
- Joseph Sassoon Semah: On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) IV -
How to Explain Hare Hunting to a Dead German Artist, production Metropool International Art Projects, 2023
[The usefulness of continuous measurement of the distance between Nostalgia and Melancholia]
- Joseph Sassoon Semah: On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III -
The Third GaLUT : Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam,
production Metropool International Art Projects, Amsterdam 2020
- Joseph Sassoon Semah: On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) II -
The Guardians of the Door, production Metropool International Art Projects, Amsterdam 2017
- Joseph Semah On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) -, production Metropool International Art Projects, Amsterdam 2015
- Joseph Semah Tracing Martin Heidegger's hut and Paul Celan's clouds […] , Den Haag 2011
- Ich bin, der ich bin EHYeH ASheR EHYeH, Bremen 2009
- Next Year in Jerusalem, Bremen 2009
- Ulco Mes, Joseph Semah (eds.) Joseph Semah. A Journey into PaRDeS, Venlo 2006

Collections (selection) 

  •  Kunstmuseum Den Haag, 
  •  Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; 
  • Joods Historisch Museum, 
  • Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede; 
  • Israel Museum, Jerusalem; 
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, Londen; 
  • Jewish Museum, New York; 
  • Museum Jan Cunen, Oss; 
  • Stedelijk Museum, Schiedam; 
  • Albertina, Vienna , 
  • Collectie G+W nederland, 
  • Roel Arkesteijn Antwerpen
  • Museum De Domijnen, Sittard
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