Venetian Ghetto comes to life

Documenting the afterlife of the Venetian Ghetto 500 years after its establishment, the photographs reveal the special character of this historic place.

Venice: An accidental love affair (photo credit: SARAH L. SINGER)
Venice: An accidental love affair
(photo credit: SARAH L. SINGER)
Sarah Singer’s photographic exhibition “Venezia – The Ghetto – 500 Years,” located below the Saidoff complex on Jaffa Road, is a pleasant stop for lovers of art and history alike.
Documenting the afterlife of the Venetian Ghetto 500 years after its establishment, the photographs reveal the special character of this historic place.
Singer, an impressive character herself, is an artist of many mediums (photography, printmaking and painting, to name a few) as well as a self-proclaimed “Jew who travels.” “I am not a wandering Jew, I am a Jew who travels,” she insists, thereby affirming her established roots and home in Israel.
Inspired by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Singer – who was born in Paris, was raised in America and came on aliya – has traveled to far-flung destinations to pursue nature photography. Nature is her primary subject, and she has set out to capture its raw beauty.
After years of photographing nature, what led Singer to develop such a strong artistic connection to Venice? It was an accidental love affair. Years ago, she found herself on a train from Paris to Venice without any real desire to see the city. A close friend purchased the tickets, and they arrived early in the morning. Their first stop was the site of the former Jewish ghetto just after sunrise. For Singer, this was love at first site: the place, the time and the images.
Since then, the artist has made numerous enchanting trips to Venice – always visiting the ghetto to take photographs, always early in the morning (to beat the crowd of tourists). Singer did not know much about the history of the Venetian Ghetto when she arrived. Over the past 15 years, however, it has become her muse.
“People think that the ghetto only represents a sad place, which it does. But on the positive side, the Jewish ghetto in Venice was a gathering of Jews from all over the world. Even though they came from different places and traditions, they respected each other and developed cultural exchanges. They also influenced the people of Venice culturally – in that way, it reminds me of present-day Israel.”
Singer notes that during the 16th century and for about 300 years after, the ghetto was a cultural melting pot of about 700 German, Sephardi and Polish Jews who lived together in unity. This closeness made an impression on the artist, and she knew that she must capture it.
Twenty photographs displayed on the white walls reveal the ghetto through serendipitous moments and Singer’s creative eyes. At times, the photos capture unique historical aspects of the ghetto; for example, photographs of the seven-story buildings – the only buildings of their kind in the city – which call to mind the crowded quarters and desperate need for space. Often, Singer’s photos offer more abstract commentaries, such as the reflection of a still cityscape in a puddle, an emblem of the artist’s own reflection on a moment in Jewish history.
Despite the negative realities of ghetto life, here is a retrospective in positive light. As often happens when looking back at one’s heritage, Singer is searching to reveal light in dark places. The physical beauty is obvious – the photographs are clear, colorful and professional – but the artist was focused on revealing the aesthetics of the circumstances, despite the negative realities of ghetto life. With each photograph in Venezia – The Ghetto –500 Years, Singer tells a story, bringing these distant moments to light in Jerusalem.
Says Singer, “Art is a bridge between people. When making art, I think there are two ways of approaching a subject – working from light or working from darkness. I chose to work from light.” • The exhibition – sponsored in part by Targum Shlishi, a Raquel and Aryeh Rubin Foundation – is at 155 Jaffa Road through August 1.