Batnadiv HaKarmi


(1980) is an American-born painter and poet who spent her formative years in the Old City of Jerusalem. Her works straddles the line between representation and abstraction, and explores the polarities of the mythic and the domestic, looking at the tensions and the cross fertilization between them.  Her most recent series calls attention to the essential role of caretaking and caregiving in human life—a silent protest to the way it is devalued and ignored in modern society. READ INTERVIEW.

Shells, Clay 2022

“Matrescence” refers to the transition to motherhood—a life change that is as disruptive physically, emotionally, hormonally, and socially as adolescence.

It took me over a year to physically heal from the birth of my first child. My body has been transformed. There is no “getting back” to yourself.

In the months after the birth, I became obsessed with the idea of the aftermath. How does acting as a vassal / container for life transform the body? What traces does it leave?

I drew and sculpted seedpods—objects shaped around the life that they held; the hollowed empty eye sockets where the seeds once nested.

During the final months of my third pregnancy, I made a plaster mold of my stomach: the off center naval, the stretched skin. After the birth, I began making multiple casts of this mold, creating a landscape of the gravid belly, which is also a landscape of broken eggshells.

Playground Series, Swings, 2020, 40 x 60 cm, Oil on Canvas

As a mother of three very young children, I have become interested in caregiving–the public and private aspects, the transformations it entails, the price it bears.

I am currently in the midst of exploring what I call “care heterotopias” –the multiple spaces that accompany day to day living, but which are mainly experienced by caregivers. These spaces–which include doctors’ waiting rooms, playgrounds, community centers –are fully visible, but rarely noticed. They are spaces where various communities intersect, but often don’t interact. They are spaces where time runs differently (as anyone who has waited in a wellness center can attest). Spaces that highlight the tensions between dependence and caregiving. 

Over the long years of pandemic and lockdown, my focus has zeroed in on an oft-overlooked space of childcare: playgrounds. Beneath their candy aesthetic of artificial colors and sharp geometrics, playgrounds encapsulate many of the tensions of care-spaces. On a sociological level, they are a place where the various local communities eddy around each other, in a curious dance of connection and distance. My local playground straddles the predominantly Jewish neighborhood of Kattamonim, Jerusalem, and the neighboring Arab village of Beit Tzafafa, and is one of the few places where the two neighborhoods intermingle. On a psychological level, playgrounds, with their mix of ages and abilities, act as a safe arena to play out the tensions between dependence, interdependence, and independence.

During the first lockdown, playgrounds gained an added political dimension. Blocked off even after gyms and swimming pools were reopened, they encapsulated how the needs of children and their caregivers were being erased. My children’s despairing wails for the playground underscored for me just how essential these spaces were, even as they disappeared from the public eye. During the second and third lockdowns, playgrounds became one of the only sites for children to meet socially. Packed at all hours of the day, these spaces became hubs of interaction—not only for children, but for their caretakers as well. From a sometimes- dreaded chore, they had been transformed to an oasis of connection. A place where caretakers could also find care.

Playground Series, Hold, 2022, 100 x100 cm, Oil on Canvas

The early works of this series were done during lockdown, in stolen moment and spaces, and are, by necessity, small. This is the first work which I was able to take back to the studio and develop to larger-scale oil paintings. The playground serves as a prism to look at the issues of caregiving and social interaction, while studying the still-evolving impact of the pandemic. 

Beneath the Surface, 2017, 190 x 240 cm Acrylic and Oil Stick on Canvas

From the “Word incarnate” series, exploring text as gesture, and gesture as generating text, in a reciprocal, generating relationship.

Image 7: Installation Shot of the “Seven Faces of Eve,” 2017 (view on the blog banner for Batnadiv).

Julia and I began our collaboration with a discussion of the self-erasure of women. The expectation and acceptance, since childhood, of being relegated to the background. The caricature of the Haredi press, where female faces are erased even in magazines that are by and for women, points at something more subtle and pernicious. Vuillard’s women, swallowed into the walls and tables.

For me, this discussion brought up a deeper erasure that happens in pregnancy. The body suddenly dominates. It is all that is seen. Sometimes it feels like your identity and voice have been swallowed in your belly, even as you stare, alienated, and disconnected from this stranger’s shape in the mirror. There is something in female biological processes, especially in pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood, that wear down on the sense of self. From the moment that egg is fertilized, the body is off on a journey over which you have no control, and yet which impacts every aspect of your identity. You can trace this process in books and lectures, but the fact is that myriad and constant changes are happening beneath the surface of your skin which you can only dimly follow. The barrage of hormones. The softening of ligaments. The change in bone placement.  A sudden tuning to another life, whose needs drown out any memory of your own. The changes are so all encompassing, it is hard to find the former shape of the self, to reknit the ligaments of will.

For this exhibition, I chose to explore this idea of a process that takes place beneath the surface, half seen but not fully known. Using a white oil stick, I free wrote across the canvas. I let the movement carry me, never knowing what would come next. The writing is visceral and bodily and takes me to places I would not otherwise go. When I work this way, I often feel the need to cover part of the text, because it is too personal. This time, however, I had written white on white, so the words were hard to make out. Even as I sat, trying to process what I had written, there were gaps.

She studied art at the Jerusalem Studio School, the International School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture, Italy, and the New York Studio School, and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Bar Ilan University. Batnadiv has had two solo exhibitions at the Art Shelter Gallery in Jerusalem, and has taken part in numerous group shows and art events in Israel and abroad– recently in the Biblelands Museum, Jerusalem and the Mishkan Museum of Art in Ein Harod. She has been a fellow at A Studio of Her Own since 2015. Read the interview with Batnadiv at MoM.