Gelatin Silver prints of varying sizes. Edition of 5.

A Jewish Itinerary from Poland to Africa

I met Cristina da Silva-Schwarc in Guinea-Bissau in 2003. Four generations back our ancestor, Isuchaar Szwarc, a renowned Jewish scholar, lived in Zgierz, in central Poland. In his lifetime Isuchaar saw his small medieval town transformed by industrialization. He died as the Nazis exterminated the Jewish communities. Isuchaar's eldest son, Samuel, settled in Lisbon. A successful mining engineer also known for his scholarship, Samuel lived in Portugal during the waning decades of its colonial epoch. Samuel's daughter Clara settled Portuguese Guinea in 1947. There she and her husband played a prominent role in the anti-colonial movement. Since Guinea-Bissau's independence, Carlos, their youngest son, has devoted his life to the agricultural development of this impoverished nation. Cristina is Carlos daughter.

I had always heard of this accomplished branch of my family. It occurred to me that their lives were an embodiment of modernity's positivist belief in mobility and progress.

Jewish families are often characterized by patterns of dispersal and migration, patterns that have of late come to characterize the general world population. While my images are specific, my intent is to go beyond the narrow identifications of any particular community. It is the tension between the local and the global that interests me.

The condition of multiplicity, wandering, and exile, as shown in this story, suggests some principles for an alternative foundation of cultural identification, based on shared patterns of experience.

Cristina's History is presented as an installation consisting of three digital projections (Zgierz, Lisbon, Guinea-Bissau). In the rooms concerning Poland and Guinea-Bissau, two projectors are mounted back to back on a central pivot. The images rotate around the room (like the beams of a light house), stretching and bending on the walls as they are distorted by the shape of the room. In the Lisbon room, three projectors project the images on alternate walls. A voice-over narrates the story. Each room`s cycle lasts approximately 15 minutes and consists of about 60 images.

The catalog consists of three chapters (Zgierz, Lisbon, Guinea-Bissau) with the sequence of images, and essays by Jean Francois Chevrier, art historian and independent curator, Jonathan Boyarin, professor of modern Jewish studies, and Carlos Schwarz Da Silva, Levin's cousin living in Guinea Bissau, director of the NGO Action for Development. Texts in French, English, and Portuguese.

Installation view, Berardo Collection Museum, Lisbon, 2009

Installation view, Le Point du Jour, Cherbourg, France, 2009

Installation view, Le Point du Jour, Cherbourg, France, 2009

Installation view, Musee d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme, Paris, 2010

Installation view, Musee d'art et d'histoire du Judaisme, Paris, 2010

View a video of the installation at the Berardo Foundation Museum (English narration, 5 minutes)

Listen to a lecture by Jean-Francois Chevrier delivered at Le Point du Jour, April 25, 2009 (in French; 1 hour, 15 minutes)

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