Mati Elmaliach | And I, if only I could, I would

Mati Elmaliach

And I, if only I could, I would

Curator: Sofie Berzon MacKie

Mati Elmaliach has dedicated the past 16 years to observing his life. Weaving in and out of his formal biography, his work is a continual exploration of identity. He establishes internal reference points that extend beyond his own narrative, and forges connections between disparate elements that seek connection. Identity, though a simple term, encapsulates a tangled and dense web of living materials. Memories, aspirations, historical and familial stories, political and unseen forces scattered at different times and places, meet within one individual body, flesh and blood.

A man carries the weight of generations, even before he was assembled – cell by cell – in his mother’s womb. Dreams cam true and others unrealized, life-changing and arbitrary decisions, environmental pressures and world orders. And within them, facing a burdensome journey, a man must find his own skin. Elmaliach’s artistic action can bear many titles; it can be attributed to diverse categories. For years, he has been dealing transversely with orientalism, masculinity and homosexuality. Now, a hospital wristband signified his role as a father. Identity politics declare what we already know: that the personal is political and that our lives are intertwined with a world of ideas and terms greater than us. The rules of his game, are set in the arena of power relations and social discourse.

However, this act of cataloging even within language itself, seems to sin against the holism evident to me in the meeting of the delicate and vivid body, with the bedsheet folds. The body strives to be seen as a whole, firmly held in a singular moment. Hidden pieces of his life’s puzzle, magically interlock and return to place. His body generates gravity in the world, pulling and collapsing together it’s components through the years.

Elmaliach’s body migrates with his whole world from one room to another. A chronicle of rooms, hotels, temporary or permanent homes. Within them, he can rest. Rest his body and put things to rest. Over time, the room departs from its actuality as a place in the world, feeling more and more akin to a delicate eggshell. An egg he carries with him, traversing from one milestone to another. In this egg, a lifetime patiently develops, about to unveil its splendor. It may be revealed here for the first time. A man is born out of many years of silent processes, of completion, of great love, of transparent and robust silk threads weaved within himself, and between himself and the world. He emerges from the lineage that preceded him, within a room that fosters the freedom of closeness to himself.

“The poet will feel the room’s splendor and its discomfiture. With his one hand, he wants to remove the burden of the generations, and with his other hand, he continues the dynasty; he himself is another ink in the chain he means to rip… This poetry is the poetry of the rupture in the heart: the heart is torn and scalded, different forces pull it here and there, and the poet stands at a crossroads and creates poetry. “

– Micha Josef Berdyczewski ,’Hebrew Poetry’ (1906)

What poetry does Elmaliach create?


As a child

I rarely left the house

Hashem – will not touch me!

After staying in the room for a few weeks, I became a Koy of sorts.

He scrapes the surface of the yellowing paper adorned with a fragment penned by Y. L. Peretz. Language, history, memory, and culture become an open and malleable canvas, ready to be reshaped at will and in his image. This is how Elmaliach’s poetry was written. Poetics of one man observing his reflection, seeing entire universes collapse and coalesce for him.


* Koy: A pure animal whose essence sages were divided over, deliberating whether to condemn it as a wild or domestic animal.

Sofie Berzon MacKie


More images from the exhibition