Michel Nedjar was born near Paris in 1947. Both his Jewish parents had emigrated to France in the early 1920's. His father developed a prosperous business as a master-tailor and Nedjar grew up amid garments and sewing machines, making his first dolls out of cast-off fabrics and tree roots, often playing with them in the cellar.
After leaving school in 1961, he worked as an apprentice tailor for several years. Following a brief period of military service and a bout with tuberculosis, he set forth in 1970 on a series of momentous journeys that took him to Morocco, Algeria, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal. By 1975 he had twice visited Mexico, as well as Belize and Guatemala, where the dolls sold in the marketplace fascinated him. "It was my first contact with High Magic, craftsmanship, the Baroque," he later remarked.
Back in Paris, he began fashioning his own fetish dolls out of rags, twigs, sacking and other flea market objects. In 1980 he began to draw, often working by night to produce stacks of images on old envelopes, sheets of sample wallpaper or the back of old record sleeves. Nedjar's dolls are permanently featured in Jean Dubuffet's Collection d'Art Brut in Lausanne, Switzerland. In 1982, Nedjar became a co-founder of the L'Aracine Collection of Art Brut, now located in Lille, France
Over the past two decades, Nedjar has become an internationally known artist who shows in galleries across Europe and North America and is represented in all-major Art Brut collections. For many years, he has also been a keen amateur filmmaker. He continues to travel, returning regularly to Mexico and India. His mature work embodies authority and dignity, as well as being conceived on a large scale. Animal and bird figures, and the human face reduced to an owl-like mask, are constant motifs. Whether in two or three dimensions, his expressions remain true to a fundamental vision of the fragility of human identity. His imagery often takes on a transcendent eloquence, manifesting something of the aura-like poise of ancient religious art.
Michel currently lives and works in Paris, France. He is continuously working for galleries and traveling the world doing exhibitions.
Much has been written about Nedjar since Roger Cardinal's in-depth study published in Lausanne in 1990: of his childhood in a large Jewish family in an idyllic house with a garden in a northern suburb of Paris; of the brutal figure of his father, a Sephardi tailor reminiscent of Kafka's terrible genitor; of his Ashkenazi mother and his Polish, Yiddish-speaking grandmother, who introduced Nedjar to schmattes, the old rags which he later adopted as material for his handmade embryonic dolls. And of his encounter with Téo Hernandez, a Mexican experimental film-maker who became his mentor in the arts; and of their subsequent travels to Morocco, India, Mexico and elsewhere, after which he felt an urgent 'need to work in magic' and hence began his artistic production around May 1976.
One event that dates back to Nedjar's youth is often mentioned also, and is supposed to have been the original trauma that later triggered his creative output: the evening when, at the age of thirteen, he stumbled upon Alain Resnais' movie Nuit et Brouillard on television and discovered the terrifying reality of the Nazi concentration camps. 'I had two aunts who returned from Auschwitz and they told us,' recalls Nedjar. 'But words don't have the power of the image. Resnais' movie really shook me. After the Shoah, that was it: I had left Eden.' And it is a fact that, many years later, Nedjar discovered with amazement that he handled his dolls in the same way that he had seen the soldiers in the film pile up the corpses in the pits when he was a teenager.