Shulamit Bruckstein Coruh | On Friendship/(Collateral Damage) III

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Lumen Travo Gallery ~ Opening “On Friendship/(Collateral Damage) III – The Third GaLUT”, 7th September h 17:00

Lumen Travo gallery is thrilled to invite you to its first exhibition of the new season: the solo show by artist Joseph Sassoon Semah, who will share his lost rich Jewish Babylonian cultural heritage through art, performances and debates.

On Friendship/(Collateral Damage) III – The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam is an aesthetic and poetic research into the cities Baghdad, Jerusalem and Amsterdam, which has been conceived by artist Joseph Sassoon Semah and curated by Linda Bouws (Metropool International Art Projects).
All these cities are said to have been tolerant at some time in their history, but how does that relate to ‘otherness’ and what does it mean today?

The project focuses on two lines of thought. The first is what Semah called ‘The Third GaLUT’, the third Exile, a metaphor for disconnectedness.
The second is ‘The Guest’, he who is allowed to live and work in a foreign context tests his surroundings the very moment he articulates his particular position in exile without any reservations. The Guest becomes Host. By this process Semah investigates one of the greatest achievements of human civilisation: hospitality. Joseph Sassoon Semah translates his cultural and visual heritage and its subtext into contemporary art. While doing so he reassesses and redefines lost heritages.

Opening on the 7th September, 17:00-19:00 hrs.
Exhibition running till the 12th October 2019.Besides the show at Lumen Travo, this manifestation will take place in 35 different public locations in Amsterdam, from September 7th-January 19th 2020.
Simultaneously in Amsterdam, Baghdad and Jerusalem a small house will be built: MaKOM in MaKOM.
The project is aiming to translate the cultural heritage of Baghdad, Jerusalem, and Amsterdam, with the help of the different ‘Guests’, into a meaningful experience for a broad audience.

On Friendship/(Collateral Damage) III – The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam was realised in part with the support of AFK, BPD Cultuurfonds, Lumen Travo Gallery, Mondriaan Fonds and Redstone Natuursteen & Projecten.

Joseph Sassoon Semah was born in Baghdad (Iraq, 1948), as one of the last of a Babylonian Jewish family lineage. Baghdad once was one of the most diverse an tolerant cities in the world. The Babylonian Jews in Iraq were one of the oldest and historically seen, the most important Jewish community. But from 1948, the year of independence for Israel, life for Jews in Iraq becomes extremely difficult.

Between 1950-1952, 120.000 – 130.000 Iraqi Jews were transported to Israel. The displaced Baghdadi Jews were forced to leave behind their culture and possessions in Iraq. Semah, together with his parents was displaced to the State of Israel in 1950.

As a Babylonian Jew who emigrated to the West (Amsterdam), he is part of GaLUT (Exile), an endless cycle of diaspora and return. You long for your country of birth and search for a way to relate to your cultural heritage and traditions.

Joseph Sassoon Semah – On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III -The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, 2019 (Between Graveyard and Museum’s Sphere) 2019 Model based on Synagogue Meir Tweig, Baghdad, Iraq Bronze, 10 ShOFaROT, 70x30x33cm Photo: Ilya Rabinovich

Joseph Sassoon Semah – On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III -The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, 2019 Jusuf/Yosef/Joseph drawings,sepia ink on paper, brown thread, glass, wood Size: 3 x 50×40 cm Photo: Ilya Rabinovich

Joseph Sassoon Semah – On Friendship / (Collateral Damage) III -The Third GaLUT: Baghdad, Jerusalem, Amsterdam, 2019 22 drawings, sepia ink on paper, brown thread, glass, wood, 50x40cm Photo: Ilya Rabinovich

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How To Explain Hare Hunting To A Dead German Artist

Joseph Sassoon Semah, My Beloved Country – That Did Not Love Me, rug and black oil paint, 100X70 cm, 1977 Photography: Ilya Rabinovich  – Courtesy of Joseph Sassoon Semah

Joseph Sassoon Semah, a Baghdad-born artist who now lives and works in Amsterdam, is about to embark on an extensive multi-site project, in Amsterdam, Jerusalem, and Baghdad. Berlin-based poet and author Mati Shemoelof talks with him about his years living as an artist in Israel versus being a Babylonian Jew and an artist in Europe. They discuss Judaism, diaspora, exclusion, and acts of concealment and building.

The artist Joseph Sassoon Semah has never before given an interview to an art publication in Israel. The Israeli art world has not adequately recognized his work. Although he showed in several important institutions in Israel and worked with key curators, it was negligible compared with the scope of his oeuvre, especially following his move from Israel to Europe. What would have happened had he stayed in Israel? Was he stumped by his diasporic state or was he ahead of his time in dealing with the Jewish component of his art? It is not merely an objective issue to be measured by the number of exhibitions, but rather the artist’s subjective sense of his position in the art field. I gather from Semah that he has remained on the outside, beyond the walls of Jerusalem. In Europe, too, and especially in the Netherlands, his work is not widely known yet. This interview stems from my own interest in Semah’s identity (we are both of a Jewish Iraqi descent) and his work, but also as an intra-European process of an artistic, inter-generational analysis attempting to formulate the role of Jewish culture in Europe.

Semah was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1948. His grandfather, Hacham Sassoon Kadoorie, was the chief rabbi of Baghdad’s Jewish community until his passing in 1971, even after they had all emigrated. In 1950, Semah and his family were uprooted from Iraq, and they moved to Israel. He grew up in Tel Aviv. Traumatized by his military service in the 1967 and 1973 wars, he chose exile and has been living in the Netherlands since 1981. The grandfather’s continued residence in Baghdad, along with some 20,000 more Jews, brings to mind Semah’s own position in Amsterdam (his grandfather did not immigrate to Israel, and Semah emigrated from Israel – both had chosen a diasporic existence as a Jewish minority under a Muslim/Christian majority), where he now lives with his partner, Linda Bouws. She runs the institute they co-founded, Metropool – Studio Meritis MaKOM: International Art Projects. My grandmother, Rachel Kazaz, had also been among the displaced Baghdadi Jews. My acquaintance with the pain and the uprooting enabled me to write about the mysterious affair that drove the Jews of Iraq to abandon their property, their culture, and their way of life within just a year; the affair that involved bombing Jewish centers in Baghdad, including the synagogue of Semah’s grandfather. [i] Read more

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Migration And Its Discontents: Israelis In Berlin And Homeland Politics

Yael Almog Ills.: Joseph Sassoon Semah

Recent history has established Germany’s reputation as a new immigration country, facilitated by its economic boom and a relatively accommodating migration policy. An attractive destination for newcomers, Germany has surpassed many lands such as England and Canada which have long been recognized as immigration countries. Berlin in particular has drawn diverse populations of immigrants, including a considerable number of authors and artists whose works negotiate this relocation to the city. The gap between Germany’s notorious historical reputation for being hostile toward minority groups—embodied in the memories of World War II—and its attractiveness for expatriates has grown increasingly wider.

It is under these conditions that the growing community of Israelis living in Berlin has drawn attention from the German, Israeli, and global media. Israeli media and the publicist polemic have been preoccupied in recent years with the role of Israel’s living costs as a motivation for migration to Europe. In recent years, public protests in Israel have opted to shift public discussion away from its longtime focus on state security and onto the country’s increasingly high cost of living: Daily life necessities have “surpassed” the outside threat of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli violence. In Israel, the perception of Germany as an attractive destination for emigrants elicits protests against the so-called opportunism of Israeli emigrants accused of “forgetting” the crimes committed by Germany during the Holocaust in favor of the satisfaction of mundane needs.[1] Former Israeli Minister of Finance, Yair Lapid, for example, has condemned the diffidence of Israelis who leave Israel because life is “easier in Berlin.”[2] According to Lapid, relocating in Berlin, the city which embodies historic insecurity for Jews, exemplifies the renouncement of national solidarity for the sake of economic comfort.

Berlin is characterized, often dismissively, as a “bubble” by Germans and foreigners alike—a desirable location for individuals belonging to minority groups or adhering to subaltern politics. My contention is that this cultural and imaginary construct functions as a microcosm allowing for the transmission of political identities to a new, foreign realm.
By examining recent literary representations which describe Berlin as a place of residence for Israelis, this essay argues that the description of Israeli migrants “escaping” their home country misses a crucial point: During their time in Berlin, Israelis do not simply abandon, but rather relocate Israeli politics to a new setting. This displacement dispels seminal expectations of Jewish diasporic life in Germany—both the Zionist discourse on European Jewish diaspora and Germany’s hegemonic memory culture. For one, the identification of the Israeli newcomers as “oriental” is at odds with an Israeli narrative of European Jews
returning to the continent after the trauma of the Holocaust. In the following readings of contemporary literary texts, I trace how sociopolitical conflicts salient to contemporary Israeli society—in particular, tensions between ethnic groups of Jewish Israelis—are negotiated through the act of travelling to Berlin or residing in the city. I follow how these conflicts are reformulated in a vocabulary pertaining to German memory culture and to German-Jewish encounters. Read more

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Kardinaal Willebrandslezing 2018 ~ 5 april 2018 in Bergkerk te Amersfoort

Prof.dr. Emile Schrijver

Op 5 april 2018 nodigen de Tilburg University/Katholieke Theologie en de Katholieke Raad van het Jodendom de Algemeen directeur van het Joods Cultureel Kwartier en hoogleraar van de geschiedenis van het Joodse boek aan de UvA, Prof. dr. Emile Schrijver, uit om de jaarlijkse Kardinaal Willebrandslezing te geven met de titel “Identiteit en tradities onder druk”. De coreferenten Prof.dr. Dineke Houtman, hoogleraar Judaica aan de Protestantse Theologische Universiteit en Dr. Bill Banning, docent godsdienst en levensbeschouwing op het d’Oultremontcollege te Drunen, gaan in op de vraag wat christenen van de joodse benadering kunnen leren. Een benadering die allereerst gaat om het doen, het leven volgens de Torah in plaats van de christelijke aanpak van puur doorgeven van het geloof.

Emile Schrijver benadrukt in zijn lezing het grote belang dat het jodendom hecht aan het doorgeven van de joodse leer van generatie op generatie (le dor wa-dor). Schrijver illustreert dat met verschillende citaten en voorbeelden uit de geschiedenis, zoals het volgende citaat uit de Misjna (de eerste neerslag van de mondelinge leer uit de tweede eeuw na de jaartelling): “Mozes ontving de Torah van Sinaï, en gaf haar door aan Jozua; Jozua gaf haar weer door aan de ouden, de ouden aan de profeten; en de profeten leverden haar over aan de mannen van de grote vergadering. Zij hadden drie spreuken: wees voorzichtig met oordelen, vorm veel leerlingen en maak een omheining om de Torah.”

Het einde van de 9de of aan het begin 10de eeuw markeren een nieuwe vorm van overdracht, de codex, naar het gebonden boek, dat het mogelijk maakt om grote teksten door te geven, allereerst voor de overdracht van het Heilige Schrift. Schrijver gaat vervolgens in op de traditionele vorm van een gedrukte bladzijde van de Talmoed, die zich kenmerkt door een centrale tekst die is omgeven door commentaarteksten. ”De oorsprong ligt in de cultuur van discussiëren, bevragen en problematiseren die eigen is aan de joodse cultuur.”

In de loop van de 13e eeuw verschijnen steeds meer handschriften met gecentreerde hoofdteksten en flarden commentaar daaromheen geschreven. Dit wordt de traditie van het ‘open boek’ genoemd, een levende en bewegende traditie. Teksten zijn niet definitief, anderen mogen er nieuw licht op laten schijnen. Deze toevoegingen worden vaak opgenomen in nieuwe versies van de tekst en genieten meestal dezelfde autoriteit als de brontekst. Read more

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Joseph Semah’s bladen bij Pessachim: Schets van een methode voor Talmoedische landschapsvormen

Joseph Semah ~ Inleiding tot het principe van verhoudingsgewijze expressie

Voor mijn Chavrutha Esther Kontarsky en de kunstenaar Joseph Semah


“Inleiding tot het principe van verhoudingsgewijze expressie”, “Inleiding tot de grondslagen van esthetische verhoudingen” of “Inleiding tot het beginsel van verhoudingsgewijze vormgeving”: “An introduction to the principle of relative expression” is de titel die de kunstenaar Joseph Semah meegeeft aan een serie bladen bij de Babylonische Talmoed, die varianten tonen van met zwart overschilderde gedrukte bladen papier. Het zijn bladzijden uit het Talmoedische traktaat Pessachim, met zwarte olieverf in verschillende geometrische vormen overschilderd, analoog aan de formele tekstopmaak van Gemara, Raschi, Rashbam en Tosefot.

Revelare: “versluieren, bedekken”
Met het zwart overschilderen van de verschillende tekstblokken van de Gemara volgt de kunstenaar een hermeneutische techniek uit de traditie van de rabbijnen, waarbij het blootleggen van de betekenis van de tekst tegelijk ook opgevat wordt als het overschrijven/toedekken van dat tekstblok met zwarte “inkt”. Over het thema van de openbaring/het openbaren/revelare van de betekenis van een tekst als een voortdurend proces van het feitelijk toedekken/onttrekken/re-veiling van de tekst door nieuwe “tekst” tot aan de volledige onherkenbaarheid van de oorsprong ervan, bestaat zeer veel contemporaine literatuur. Door een hele generatie Kabbalah-geleerden en onderzoekers van Rabbijnse literatuur is de laatste veertig jaar het specifieke probleem aan de orde gesteld van het oneindig bijwerken van de heilige tekst door “mondelinge uitleg”; een proces dat tevens bewust maakt van een voorgoed on(her-)kenbaar worden van de oertekst. In zijn werk “Offenbarung und Tradition als religiöse Kategorien des Judentums” (1970) stelt Gerschom Scholem een hermeneutiek voor van het radicaal, feitelijk overschrijven van de oertekst van de Thora met kabbalistische literatuur, waarbij hij de voor heilig gehouden “geschreven Thora” op een lijn stelt met het oneindig wit van de ruimte tussen de letters, woorden en zinnen. Met een revolutionaire uithaal naar de verlichte Duits-Joodse universalisten, die, naar Hellenistisch, Judeo-Arabisch en Kantiaans voorbeeld, alle uitleg van De Schrift aan de veronderstelde grondslag van de ene menselijke ratio lieten ontspringen, verklaarde Scholem de materieel-objectieve en esthetische bijzonderheden van de Hebreeuws-Aramese taal en het Hebreeuwse schriftbeeld tot voorwaarde van de overlevering van “heilige teksten” volgens Joodse traditie. Pointe daarvan: de mondelinge overlevering vindt haar oorsprong in een oneindigheid die zich niet als oneindigheid van een ideële ratio maar veeleer als oneindigheid van een materieel wit zijn zich voordoet: een materieel niets tussen de regels, tussen de letters, waarin zich als “zwart vuur over wit vuur” de traditie schrijft en waarbij het wit zelf wijst op het onophoudelijk onleesbaar worden van het geschrevene. Read more

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