Joseph Sassoon Semah

To 14 January 2018

In the project On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) II - The Guardians of the Door, artist Joseph Sassoon Semah (1948) artistically reflects on how the Reformation, which began with Martin Luther (1483-1546), has influenced art for the past five hundred years. Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk, the Jewish Historical Museum, Stedelijk Museum and Goethe Institute partnered on this project.

© Joseph Sassoon Semah
© Joseph Sassoon Semah


For more than thirty years, Joseph Sassoon Semah has explored the relationship between Judaism and Christianity as sources of Western art and cultural history. In his own work Semah seeks to ‘correct’ art history, philosophy and theology. He argues that more attention needs to be given to different sources so a broader basis for other perspectives is created.

© Joseph Sassoon Semah
On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) II - The Guardians of the Door © Joseph Sassoon Semah


Artist Joseph Sassoon Semah was born in Baghdad (Iraq), where his grandfather Hacham Sassoon Kadoori (1885-1971) was the President of the Babylonian Jewish community. With his parents Joseph Semah was ’displaced’ to the State of Israel in 1950. In the mid-1970s Semah decided to leave Israel, describing this as a form of self-imposed exile. He lived and worked in London, Berlin and Paris. Since 1981 he has resided in Amsterdam. He regards himself as a ‘guest’ in the Western (art) world. Reading into works of art using his native-language Hebrew as the framework, Semah signals a lack of knowledge about Judaism. He believes Jewish layers of meaning are not given enough attention in art history and feels compelled to rectify this: to fill the ‘empty page’. His extensive oeuvre consists of drawings, paintings, sculptures, installations, performances and texts.

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