Nova Festival Photographer’s Art Gallery Brings an Emotional, Healing Experience to LA

The photographer and curator of the exhibit, 26-year-old Israeli Inor Roni Kagno, was also the main official photographer of the Nova festival. 
July 10, 2024
Inor Roni Kagno (Photo by Tamir Moosh and Monika Lightstone)

For two nights, nearly 800 people came to a Downtown L.A. art gallery to view a collection of photographs about Oct. 7, 2023 and Nova Festival culture and the trance music scene. The photographer and curator of the exhibit, 26-year-old Israeli Inor Roni Kagno, was also the main official photographer of the Nova festival.

The exhibit, “The Spirit of Nova Gallery” is made up of eighteen photographs, each accompanied by placards describing the scene and featuring quotes from Jewish texts and history. The photographs told a story and were meant to be viewed in-sequence, moving from right to left around the perimeter of the Tomer Peretz Gallery. Kagno has been a photographer of trance festivals in Israel and around the world for several years. At the Nova Festival, he oversaw a team of eight photographers, three of whom were under his direct supervision. One of those photographers, 21-year-old Yonatan Eliyahu, was murdered that day. 

“I cried only once in the first six months after the terror attack because my post-trauma healing was being highly, highly productive with all this stuff,” Kagno told the Journal. “I only cried at the grave of my photographer.” Kagno said the first time he cried since visiting the gravesite of Yonatan was when the photography gallery in Los Angeles began to take shape.

“I took a one-way ticket, came to L.A. without money, doing everything alone; only then did I start to cry,” Kagno said. “It’s a good cry because it’s a healing cry. I can cry from happiness to memorialize and to honor not only the people who died, but the whole nation that happened to tell the truth that nobody talks about. You need to understand, for us it was crazy — nobody [in the media] talked about the spiritual aspects that happened there, about these people and their lives. We were categorized as ‘just a party, just dancers,’ but it was much deeper. It’s one of the most deep experiences a person can experience in their life.”

On Oct. 8, Kagno posted a video to his Instagram showing what the festival looked like mere minutes before the attack. To date, it’s racked up 1.2 million views. That week, Kagno helped open a healing center to help Nova Festival survivors. On October 16, he uploaded another video, calling all festival survivors to come get assisted at the healing center to heal and unify. That video has garnered 1.6 million views. This propelled Kagno to become an unofficial spokesperson for the festival, doing interviews with international media outlets including NBC, The Washington Post, and BBC.  

At first, the plan for an exhibition was to show 400 of his best photographs in five rooms. Instead, he opted for a much simpler route with just 18. After having a soft opening in Westwood in mid-June, Kagno knew this was the way to go. Melanie Hendel, who attended the soft opening, was quite taken by Kagno’s exhibit.

“It was a room filled with heartfelt energy, joy and tears,” Hendel told The Journal. “It’s nearly impossible to look at his photographs and not cry or feel something that makes you go quiet. His photographs exude the spirit of people living life to its fullest. Juxtaposed with his artful curation of the story behind the photograph, either who the person was or what happened to them, or what they endured to survive or tragically die.”

“It’s nearly impossible to look at his photographs and not cry or feel something that makes you go quiet. His photographs exude the spirit of people living life to its fullest.” – Melanie Hendel 

“The Spirit of Nova Gallery” was originally supposed to be up for one night only — Sunday, June 30. But there was so much buzz on social media from the small group of attendees at the soft opening, that with less than a week before the opening, Kagno had to set up a second night on Monday, July 1.  

Walking into the gallery, there is a ten foot altar sprawled on the gallery floor made from white stones, nuts, beans, chickpeas and lentils surrounded by small candles. It symbolized land elements, fire and water. Sepi Makabi, a film producer working with Maman Nonprofit (which helped Kagno steer the event) called attention to the altar when introducing Kagno to the attendees.

“It’s an important message that we all need to meditate on,” Makabi said. “It is light—awakening our inner life and inner faith to find the miracles that are standing in front of us that will help us persevere and survive as a nation.’

The first photograph in the sequence of eighteen is “Israel Viking.” It features a shirtless bearded man with long blonde hair and blue jeans, eyes closed, standing under a multicolored awning at an earlier trance festival in Israel. The placard next to the photograph identified the man as 25-year-old David Newman, who was murdered while hiding in a dumpster while “performing a heroic act of protecting his girlfriend with his body on Oct. 7.” Newman’s aunt and uncle were in attendance on night two. 

The second photograph, “Awakening,”  features a woman in shadow with her arms raised to the sky during a sunrise; the Hebrew words “Shema Yisrael” are painted on the image. Ronit Wolfenson, a Los Angeles-based designer, purchased this print and plans to put it in her home office. 

“For me, it sends a really powerful message,” Wolfenson told The Journal. “I felt it, the moment that I read the writing about it [on the placard] and saw the photograph, I felt like I was there with all of them. So it’s a really, really powerful message for me.” Wolfenson started to tear up as she added, “I don’t think there’s a stronger prayer than that one.” The calligraphy of the Shema on that photograph was done by Israeli-American artist and writer Amir Magal. He was at the event, painting  Hebrew words and abstract Israeli flags on white hooded sweatshirts. 

Another attendee at the gallery purchased a print of a festival-goer covered in mud titled “Genesis.” Kagno approached the customer, Yaniv Fituci, and asked, “Do you know his name? It’s me.” Fituci was floored. 

“It’s so raw, the way he’s staring down the lens, but also it reminds me of trance culture,” Fituci told The Journal. “We’ve been going to trance festivals and parties for years. This is one of those moments where you’re just walking through the crowd and you kind of make eye contact with someone and then that moment passes. It’s really a fading moment.”

One purchaser told the Journal that their print is the first artwork they have purchased that memorializes the Oct. 7 attacks. Throughout the gallery, the attendees were a hearty mixture of members of the Jewish and trance communities. Writer and comedian Brian Morgan, a non-Jewish newcomer to the trance music scene, was moved to attend the “The Spirit of Nova Gallery” with one of his friends who used to live in Israel. Over the last six months, Morgan has attended more Shabbat dinners with his Jewish friends than ever before. The photograph he is drawn to most is titled “Light & Darkness.”

“I’m grateful for my friends in the Jewish community specifically who have helped guide me to deeper truths, when the media, the news, and the evils in this world pull and divide us,” Morgan said. “So together, we have to be willing to go through, as with the title of this photograph, ‘the light and the darkness.’”

Kagno hopes to take his photographs on the road around the U.S. and beyond. He welcomes anyone interested in bringing the memory of the Nova Festival to their city to contact him on his Instagram, where every post bolsters the festival’s purpose and keeps at the forefront the memory of those murdered.

“I’m trying to tell the story of what’s happened [before the massacre] with a positive light, to get people to remember what happened, but also get inspired,” Kagno said. “And to show this contrast of life and death, light and darkness, pain and resilience. I want people to come with an open mind. This exhibit is about remembering what happened, but also about finding inspiration and light in the aftermath.” 

To bring “The Spirit of Nova Gallery” to your city, contact Inor Roni Kagno on his Instagram, www.instagram.com/inorkagno


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