Zadok Ben-David: People I saw but never met
The installation People I Saw but Never Met includes more than six-thousand figures of men, women and children. These are people that artist Zadok Ben-David had seen during his travels around the world—in a market in Kazakhstan, on the streets of Tokyo, near his studio in London, on a beach in Tel Aviv, even in Antarctica—but had never met personally. Something in their presence—a facial expression, or a momentary gesture—caught his eye and made him take their photograph. He then sketched these photographs with pencil and later, by using photo-etching, he turned the sketches into a thin metal cut-out painted in black. The installation includes thousands of these small figures standing at equidistance on a bed of sand stretched across hundreds of meters, making for an intricate human landscape.
Ben-David began working on the installation in 2015, adding more and more figures with each passing month as the work itself continued to grow. But it isn’t only its scale that changed over time. So, too, has the reading of this installation. The past year, marked by a global pandemic, has lent the work a new and unexpected meaning: a kind of heightened sensitivity in us, the viewers, to the idea of social gathering. At a time when movement across countries and borders has grinded to a halt, something in the measured distance between these figures appears almost prescient—a foreshadowing of our new routine of social distancing.
In Israel, the bleeding days of the month of May have charged the installation further, as the shocking bouts of violence between neighbors often turned on questions of identification: who is “one of us,” and who isn’t. Appearance, clothing, language—all these have become matters of life or death. The scenes of devastation and loss were a painful expression of what happens when we stop recognizing the humanity in humans.
There is, then, a sense of joy in our ability to come together and view this mesmerizing work. A reminder, perhaps, of what makes each of us unique and precious.
The installation was made possible through the generosity of Ishay and Shira Davidi, Yoav Gottesman, Doron and Marianne Livnat, Idan and Batia Ofer, Hava and Shimon Topor