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Indepth Arts News:

"Spice of Life: Markets and Jewish Merchants the World Over - Photographs by Joshua Eli Plaut"
2003-02-12 until 2003-04-27
Skirball Cultural Center
Los Angeles, CA, USA United States of America

Spice of Life: Markets and Jewish Merchants the World Over, an exhibition of 40 color photographs by Joshua Eli Plaut, documents how the Jewish mercantile tradition lives on in contemporary global society. Over the past 20 years, photographer Plaut visited hundreds of markets in Central Asia, Israel, Turkey, Greece, France, Morocco, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, intent on exploring a way of Jewish life that has flourished for thousands of years. Often denied traditional opportunities to participate in society, to own or work the land, Jews learned to survive as merchants and traders. In their encounters along trade routes and in bustling markets, they exchanged goods successfully with and alongside merchants of all cultures.

"Throughout history, as Jews and families of all cultures journeyed, migrating to countries where they might find more opportunities, they did what they could to provide for their families," explains Barbara Gilbert, Skirball Curator of Fine Arts. "Whether peddling wares from a cart in late 19th-century New York, marketing flowers at dawn in LA's Flower District in 2002, or selling hats in Greece in 1983, as depicted in one of Plaut's revealing images, working as traders and merchants offered families the chance to succeed and to belong."

Plaut's evocative images reflect today's marketplace: the excitement, the aromas, the chatter of barter, the wide variety of goods for sale, and the proud merchants who sell their wares in Jerusalem, Marrakesh, or Los Angeles. He captures the color, vitality, and texture of market life in photographs that, despite geographic distinctions, share the similarities and spirit of this Jewish mercantile tradition.

The weathered face and toothy smile of a Yemenite produce seller are framed between two bunches of radishes that he brandishes for the camera. Tables of strawberries and displays of braided breads in Jerusalem, a wheelbarrow full of meat in Uzbekistan, religious icons in Greece, textiles and bicycles in Turkey--all are presented by vendors from around the world taking part in a working way of life that has been commonplace among people of all cultures for centuries.

About the Photographer

Rabbi, photographer, author, and historian Joshua Eli Plaut is the executive director of the Center for Jewish History in New York. His photographs have been featured in many solo exhibitions, including Faces Far, Faces Near: Finding the Familiar in the Faces of Others (2001), Farewell Samarkand: The Exodus of Jews from Central Asia (1993), The Star in the Crescent: Traditional Jewish Life in Modern Turkey (1989), Fading Glory: Vestiges of Jewish Life in the American South (1987), and Scattered Lights: The Remnant of Israel in Rural Greece (1984). He received his rabbinical ordination at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is the author of Greek Jewry in the Twentieth Century, 1913-1983: Patterns of Jewish Survival in the Greek Provinces Before and After the Holocaust, now in its third printing.

About the Skirball Skirball Cultural Center is dedicated to exploring the connections between four thousand years of Jewish heritage and the vitality of American democratic ideals. It welcomes and seeks to inspire people of every ethnic and cultural identity. Guided by our respective memories and experiences, together we aspire to build a society in which all of us can feel at home.

Skirball Cultural Center achieves its mission through public programs that explore literary, visual, and performing arts from around the world; through the display and interpretation of its permanent collections and changing exhibitions; through scholarship in American Jewish history and related publications; and through outreach to the community.

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