Shai Azoulay | The Passover Haggadah
An Ancient Story for Modern Times
Published by Tablet Magazine in 2020, The Passover Haggadah: An Ancient Story For Modern Times, is a collaborative commission by artist Shai Azoulay and writer Alana Newhouse. A contemporary reinterpretation of the ancient Jewish text, this ingenious publication presents the intersection at which text, image and spirituality converge into a single volume.
The Haggadah, a traditional Jewish text said to have been written during the Talmudic times, is the text recited during the Seder service- the ceremonial dinner of the first night of Passover. The Haggadah includes the narrative of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt, and its reading aloud is an enactment of the oral tradition of storytelling in Judaism. Reciting the Haggadah is perceived as a fulfillment of the Mitzvah of orally passing down the history of the Jewish people to future generations.
Within the Jewish tradition, the celebration of Passover provides an annual opportunity for the Jewish people to imagine themselves in the ancient past of their ancestors, with an awareness of both the present and the future. The Haggadah is the means through which observers take this temporal journey, blending story and ritual with reflection and inquiry. Tablet's modern take on the traditional text recognizes its critical function, marrying written and visual worlds that are equally imaginative and immersive. Unlike previous iterations of the Haggadah, in which artwork is simply placed alongside the text, Shai Azoulay’s is woven directly into it – creating a magical effect, a cohesive textual and visual embrace with the power to transform users' personal and familial experiences of the Passover Seder.
This publication is an excellent example of Azoulay’s masterly ability to create a multidimensional image within a two dimensional medium. The rich materiality of brush strokes and robust color palette make for a dynamic set of illustrations that portray dream-like scenes in which the real and the surreal are rendered transposable. Through evocative and emotional gestures Azoulay juxtaposes the theological and the theatrical; the traditional and the modern; the poetic and the spiritual; the mystical and the myth. Constructing ethereal scenes in which the linearity of time, place and physical dimension are expropriated from meaning, Azoulay’s illustrations relay the spiritual undertone of the sacred content while avoiding explicit depictions and descriptive portrayals of the text.
Born in Israel in 1971, Shai Azoulay lives and works in Jerusalem. He received both his BFA and MFA from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem. Azoulay's work has been exhibited around the world, including shows in New York, London, Tokyo, Paris and Rome. In 2011 Azoulay had his first major museum show at the Tel-Aviv Museum of Art. His work is part of major private and public collections around the world.
Azoulay is the recipient of the "Morasha" award from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and The "Mozes" Prize from the Jerusalem Artist House among many others.