MOTHER TONGUE - Exhibition Text: Ido Cohen | Translation: Honey Shor
Like the Matryoshka holding bread and salt in her 2019 painting of the same name, I was greeted by Daria in her home studio. Only instead of bread and salt, she offered me "chocolates from the Russian store" wrapped in colored cellophane, the kind you buy in bulk. Upon entering the room, two large paintings immediately caught my eye. These were flat acrylic paintings in such vivid colors, they were a rare art form in around here. The paintings seemed like embroidered handkerchiefs turned into paintings. There was something enigmatic and mysterious about them: in the first painting ("Last Wish", 2020) a fish is seen trapped inside a Faberge egg, against an ornamental background patterned with slavic wallpaper. The second painting ("Sabra rug and two roosters", 2021) two roosters look in amazement at an egg, a clear gesture to the surrealist painter Magritte, against an ornamental background patterned with thorny Sabra cactus. Both paintings were "framed" in a painted ornamental frame.
In the painting "Last Wish", Daria corresponds with Alexander Pushkin's "The Fisherman and the Goldfish": "What will be our wish when we have only one wish left? Will we behave differently this time? Do we even dare to use it?" she asks. In another painting ("Faberge Egg and the Rooster", 2020) the ordinary egg is replaced by an ornamented Faberge egg. "In this work I present an encounter between the natural and the artificial, and ask which is more valuable: creation by God or creation by human beings?". I have noticed that the rooster reappears in a large number of Daria’s paintings. "Is it because of Pushkin's ‘Golden Cockerel’?" I asked. "Could be. In essence, a rooster is a very Russian thing", Daria replied to me, in a sentence that can be said to have conclusively summed up the difference between us, and which may be the key to understanding the entire exhibition, in the context of a Ukrainian artist creating in Israel.
Daria Konshtik was born in Ukraine (former USSR) in 1985 and immigrated to Israel in 1995. I was born in Israel in 1984. When I was in first grade, the wave of immigration from the former USSR was at its peak. Children wearing thick sweaters and speaking an unfamiliar and somewhat funny language, began to fill the warm classrooms. "Every new wave of immigrants that enters Israel experiences rejection. 26 years ago, it was the Russians' turn. I was 10 years old and did not understand what was expected of me. Just six months earlier, I was crowned the best painter in the class in Ukraine, and suddenly I’m in Israel, a foreigner and being rejected" Daria tells me. Daria was born an artist, it's in her genes: Her father was a painter who, among other things, also painted in churches. Through his work, she was exposed to a variety of visual and literary images from the Christian world. Similar to other immigrant, upon immigrating to Israel and undergoing a process of socialization into Israeli society, Daria acquired a new world of images and customs that began mixing with the old.
In his book "An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking" Hamid Naficy writes that "For external exiles the descent relations with the homeland and the consent relations with the host society are continually tested. Freed from old and new, they are "deterritorialized", yet they continue to be in the grip of both the old and the new, the before and the after. Located in such a slipzone, they can be suffused with hybrid excess, or they may feel deeply deprived and divided, even fragmented."  Even though the circumstances of her immigration to Israel is incomparable to exile, Konshtik's work displayed in this exhibition, and especially the film "Mother Tongue" from 2021, seems to be laden with hybridity. In 4 compressed minutes, Konshtik expresses a cultural divide which may have destabilized and led to fragmentation, but gradually united and became a source of pride and self-confidence. Thus, allowing also for a humorous and critical look at the Israeli reality. The video combines clips of "Dancing Nature" filmed by Konshtik at various sites around the country, family videos, excerpts from Swan Lake and a scene from a 1950s Russian animated film of "The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights" by Pushkin. Briefly, a portrait of Konshtik can be seen emerging from the chaos, wearing a traditional Ukrainian embroidered shirt and looking straight at the viewer with confidence. This exposure is exciting, since up to this work Konshtik Planted herself in her works not in her own image, but in as the character of "Matryoshka-Dasha": a Matryoshka doll presented as her alter-ego.
Using the Matryoshka doll, Konshtik maintains a dialogue with the image of the Jewish "Sabra", a native of the country. This is how in the painting "Doll with Sabra, 2020" the Matryoshka is seen in a home with Soviet-style wallpaper on the wall, behind it a window facing the Mediterranean Sea and in its hands a Sabra cactus in a flowerpot. This is kind of a "victory image" compared to the Matryoshka drowning a sea of Sabra cacti, in the 2017 "Sabras Matryoshka" piece. The gesture of "domestication" the image of the sabra is also familiar from Palestinian art: Asim Abou Shakra, (born in Umm El Fahem, 1961 - 1990) painted a long series of sabra cacti/us in flowerpots, but for him it is meant to be interpreted in the opposite way: As a symbol of displacement and loss of locality. The palm tree and the olive tree, distinct local features, are also repeated in Konshtik's works: in the work "Three Female Figures, 2018" which was inspired by his work of the same name by Kazimir Malevich from 1930. In this work, Konshtik kept the Russian village landscape of Malevich's work but replaced the peasants with Matryoshka dolls in Israeli/Russian attire: an olive-patterned dress alongside a sunflower-patterned dress.
In terms of art history, Konshtik's painting language is deliberately naive. On the wise choice to use a naive style, Carmela Rubin wrote, referring to Reuven Rubin's paintings of the 1920s and 1930s, that (translated from Hebrew): "The naive attitude and childish style gave the creative artist tools to cope with the primacy of beginning in a new environment, and perhaps also compensation for the fact that in the acquired homeland there is no physical validity to childhood memories." In the "Looking Out the Window" gesture, Konshtik also corresponds with Rubin (a native of Romania who immigrated to Israel). Rubin often painted himself looking back at a window through which a local view of the sea, camels and houses of Tel-Aviv were seen, in a manner of declaring: "I have found my home". However, the naivety in Konshtik's paintings is not as primitive or orientalist as in Rubin's Israeli paintings. She connects to the deepest parts of her soul, which, as a child, experienced shock in regards to her move to a foreign and xenophobic country. Over the years, however, Konshtik testifies herself, she has formulated a new and hybrid mother tongue, which is reflected in her artistic choices (conscious and unconscious) and interweaves with each other all of her spiritual acquisitions from her country of origin and Israel, as an act of inner settlement and peace.
 Hamid Naficy, An Accented Cinema: Exilic and Diasporic Filmmaking. Princeton University Press, 2001, 12.
 Dream place: Reuven Rubin and the encounter with the Land of Israel in his paintings from the 1920s and 1930s. Editor: Carmela Rubin. Tel Aviv Museum of Art, 2006, 17.