Diaspora: Homelands in Exile  19 September 2004

Photographs by Frédéric Brenner

The exhibition Diaspora: Homelands in Exile. Photographs by Frédéric Brenner is to be seen in the Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam from 19 September 2004 to 27 February 2005. Over a period of 24 years the French photographer Frédéric Brenner (born Paris,1959) travelled the world, chronicling Jewish life in over forty different countries. His remarkable black and white photographs provide a pinpoint-sharp picture of the many-facetted world of the Jewish Diaspora.

Wherever he went, Brenner would look for similarities between Jews. But instead, he mostly found differences. He photographed Jewish rituals still in existence, like the women's huts in Ethiopia, where women withdraw during their menstruation periods, or the handprint found on doorposts in India, a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt. But he also recorded a drag queen in South Africa, Jews selling souvenirs on St Peter's Square in Rome, and a motorbike club in Florida. Being Jewish, he realized, embraced far more than the 'authentic' Judaism. The surrounding non-Jewish cultures also influence Jewish identity in the Diaspora; indeed, it is in constant flux.

The photographs in the exhibition are classified under such headings as: 'Mothers of the missing', Argentina; 'Born in Tunisia'; the 'Marranos', from the Portuguese village of Belmonte. In the section 'Exile at Home', there is a photo taken in 1983, showing a boy in his grandfather's jewellery workshop in Yemen. Quite by chance, Brenner met the boy much later in Israel. He was now 16 years old, married, and a father. The photo series shows how newcomers to Israel attempt to retain their own identity, now in the midst of other Jews; in their former dwelling places it had been difficult to retain their Jewish identity when surrounded by non-Jews. Another theme is that of the Sephardi Jews who around five hundred years ago were driven out of Spain and Portugal. Settling in such countries as Brazil, France, Greece, Morocco, the Netherlands, the US and the former Yugoslavia, they still remained true to Spain - 'Sepharad'.

The JHM has selected certain top photos, also on display in the exhibition. Serving as introduction to the exhibition is the Diaporama, in which the photographer himself comments on a number of his pictures. With his breathtaking images he leads the viewer through an entire spectrum of time and space - from a community working on the land in India, to the hypermodern city of Hong Kong.

The publication Diaspora: Homelands in Exile (HarperCollins Publishers; Mets & Schilt Uitgevers) accompanies the exhibition.

Main sponsor exhibition: