Moshe El-Natan (Khudadad) was born in Persia in 1904. In his youth he studied in Bombay with a street portrait painter, an Indian by the name of Diharam. He journeyed through India, Thailand, Burma, Cambodia and elsewhere. In India he worked as an athletics instructor, interspersed by periods of seclusion with an Indian monk. Later he moved to Iraq, where he married, and in 1937 he immigrated to Israel. During the siege of Jerusalem he opened a falafel stall called the “King of Falafel” (the first of its kind in Israel) on King George Street, near Eden Cinema. Here, he exhibited his paintings, which he signed with his name and the motto “King of Falafel”. He was ever more drawn to fulfill his artistic ambitions, later opening a gallery on Hanevi’im Street. In 1969 he passed away in Jerusalem.
Thanks to being an “outsider” to the Israeli art world, he is able to deal with issues which were not engaged then in this field, and he produces a great variety of paintings in which he presents on canvas his visions of the future, and is also not afraid to tackle “hot” political matters of that time, such as the Eichmann trial-
“In April 1961 Adolf Eichmann stands for trial in Jerusalem for crimes against humanity and the Jewish people. Some months later, El-Natan creates a painting in oil on cardboard, in which Eichmann can be seen standing on a gallows, a rope around his neck, the rope held by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Beneath the gallows a fire is burning; dozens of skeletons and devils stretch their arms towards the detested man, pointing an accusing finger. This work was created months before the verdict was handed out, sentencing Eichmann to death by hanging.
In an essay from 1970 by Yehuda Ha-Ezrachi, published in anticipation of an exhibition at the Engel Gallery in Jerusalem (a year after El-Natan passed away), the author tells how El-Natan described going with the painting in hand to Beit Ha’am (where the trial was held) and standing near the entrance. When Eichmann’s attorney, Robert Servatius, would pass, El-Natan would raise the painting, as if showing his client’s future.” – Matar Engel, from the “Dreams of Peace and Prophecies of War” Exhibition’s article.
He also dealt in secrets and the teachings of the Jewish, Phoenician, Indian Egyptian and Assyrian, but it seems that his biggest dream was the Order of the Freemasons, many of his works contains the symbols of the order as a kind of universal language coherent and formed, but was never admitted in to the ranks of the builders and that, he says, is for his “Eastern” origins.
“In these monumental works El-Natan did not express his subjective, egocentric joys and sufferings. Instead he devoted himself to expressing the trials and tribulations of his nation and humanity, moved by both historical and apocalyptic anxieties. The fear of the A-Bomb, which cast its shadow over the world (along with the Cold War) in the 1950s-1960s, appeared quite often in his works: the mushroom cloud rises on the horizon, against a placid background of houses, vegetation and a lake. In 1953 he painted people cheerfully bathing in a river, a great mushroom cloud rising behind them. In 1966, responding to peace activist’s Abie Nathan’s flight to Egypt (“Long Live Abie Nathan, the Hero of Peace”), he represented multitudes of soldiers, ultra-orthodox Jews and even wild animals, all flying white flags of peace. Yet in the sky above he added an atom bomb, rockets, bombshells, planes and explosions. Indeed, the dread of war was ever-present in his works. In 1948, near the outbreak of the Israeli War of Independence, El-Natan painted throngs of naked males fighting, clubs in hand, against octopuses (with female heads!) intent on grasping and strangling them. Here he may have been expressing his view of the “War of the Sexes”, echoes of which appear in other works. Explosions, ruins, planes, rockets (some recalling ritual Jewish spice boxes; one of the rockets is even inscribed with a Star of David), etc. – all these populate El-Natan’s paintings. As early as the 1950s-1960s he envisioned wars conducted in outer space and between cosmic bodies.
Technological futurism, in the shape of sputniks, satellites, spacecraft, etc., informed many works by El-Natan: his futuristic, inter-galactic ships were represented with abundant mythical imagination – science fiction at its finest. These did not contradict representations of much more primitive wars, such as naked white males clashing swords with naked black males, observed from above by God’s chariot, Moses, the Tablets of the Law, musical instruments and angels. For, as we have seen, past and future, the Bible and contemporary history, outer space and earthly Jerusalem – all were fused together in Moshe El-Natan’s mythical vision, a vision that rejected categorical dichotomies.”
– Gideon Ofrat 2016, From the exhibition’s catalogue for “Moshe El-Natan – Dreams of Peace & Prophecies of War”.
1956 – Artists House, Jerusalem
1970 – Engel Gallery, Jerusalem
1973 – The Gallery for Contemporary Art, Jaffa
1974 – Engel Gallery, Jerusalem
2016 – Engel Gallery, Jerusalem
1966 – Israel Museum, Jerusalem
1970 – Helena Rubinstein Pavilion, Tel Aviv
1979 – Museum for Folk Art, Vienna
1987 – The Jewish Museum, New York
1998 – Israel Museum, Jerusalem
2013 – Haifa Museum of Art, Haifa
2016 – Petach Tikva Museum of Art, Petach Tikva