Below is a selection of cards excerpted from the texts created by Francesco Spagnolo for the exhibition, mima’amaqim | from the depths of collections, by David Wilson and Francesco Spagnolo, presented at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco (July 30, 2015-January 3, 2016), in the context of the series In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, curated by Renny Pritkin.
The cards explore varied and conflicting notions of diaspora, in relationship to words, texts, people, and objects.
diaspora | di·as·po·ra | dīˈaspərə/
diaspora is a greek word. it means scattering, of seed. usually, “seed” is understood as “sperm,” thus the genetic implication of the scattering of a people. but a botanical explanation may work equally well. if one has in mind how farmers used to spread seeds on a field, by scattering them with a fanning gesture of their arm. it’s a theatrical gesture. it’s a display of seed.
diaspora | golah | galut
in hebrew, diaspora is usually rendered as golah or galut. here, the traditional understandings of the word — ranging from “expulsion” to “captivity” to, of course, “exile” (which is both, in a way) — are not enough, and the conversation must go further. an implication of this word may instead have a lot to do with “nudity” and “exposure.” even ezekiel (ch. 12), who obsesses with the word golah, seems to suggest that exile involves being exposed to the sight, and specifically to the eyes, of others.
diaspora is to be seen.
biographies in diaspora
life in diaspora is life in motion.
is writing the biography of a diasporic artist all that different from writing that of a diasporic object? in describing the magnes collection, i’ve left behind most conventions. artists no longer have “nationalities,” even when they do carry a passport (some carry more than one, others none at all). their biographies are told, sparsely, by the dates that frame their lifespan and, even more importantly, by the territories, countries, and sometimes cities, in which they lived and worked.
take abram krol, the artist who donated the original etching plate of his portrait of isaac bashevis singer to the magnes in 1997 [Acc. no. 97.14]. according to MoMA.org, he is Abram Krol (French, born 1919). and if one follows artnet.com, he was instead Abraham (Abram) Krol (Polish, 1919-2001). in his full diasporic biography, in his life within the jewish world, this visionary artist who crossed from hassidism to cubism is better described as Abraham (Abram) Krol (Poland, France & Nazi-occupied France, 1919-2001).
nationalities do not necessarily matter here. quite paradoxically, in diaspora, it is instead the sense of place that truly matters.
the same is true of objects. material culture in diaspora always belongs to many a place. the very materials that make a ritual object often come from different parts of the world — among my favorites @magnes are torah ark curtains, one of which combines an inscription from ukraine with a textile from india, where it was used by jews from iraq… the biography of diasporic objects does not stop at their materials, though. it includes that of the (often unnamed) makers, of those to which the objects were dedicated (this is the case of many ritual objects), and of those who used them. and each of these biographies may very well bring together an array of places, of individual paths, of narratives.
the biography of objects and of people in diaspora is not a trajectory — from here, to there. it’s a network — a network of places.