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The Jews of Argentina at Jewish Museum Milwaukee

Art, artifacts and history in ‘Southern Exposure’ exhibit

Nov. 3, 2015
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At the turn of the last century, the United States was seen as a land of opportunity for immigrants fleeing poverty and oppression. Most Americans don’t realize that the U.S. wasn’t the only Promised Land. The exhibition “Southern Exposure: Jews of Argentina” is a reminder that Latin America was also a magnet for the same sort of huddled masses that passed through Ellis Island. The exhibition at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee draws some of its material from the Golda Meir Library’s little-known Jewish Latin-American collection.

“Jews have a tradition of being spread to all corners of the world, maintaining their identity through culture while at the same time absorbing the culture around them,” says the Jewish Museum’s curator Molly Dubin.

“Southern Exposure” shows how the Jewish encounter with Argentina parallels and diverges from the Jewish experience in the U.S. As described by the succinctly written and aptly illustrated information boards, Jews began arriving in large number in Argentina and North America in the 1880s and for the same reason—a flair-up of anti-Semitic violence, especially in the Russian Empire. Jews established religious, social and political organizations; set themselves up in business on both continents; and transplanted Ashkenazi culture to the New World. In Argentina, many Jews went into raising livestock and encountered the colorful gaucho culture. Gaucho artifacts are on display in “Southern Exposure,” including elaborately worked silver daggers, belts beaded with silver coins and a full costume topped by a black broad brimmed hat.

The information boards give a survey of Jewish history in Argentina, buffeted by the country’s unfortunate lurches between democracy and dictatorship. During the 1970s and ’80s, when the ruling military junta persecuted Jews whom they associated with the political left, many Jews emigrated to Israel, Canada, Spain and the U.S. The 1994 bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires by Islamist fanatics is the subject of one panel. A photo shows an empty shoe amid the rubble; another, the memorial installation later erected on the site by Israeli artist Yaacov Agam.

“Southern Exposure” includes several paintings by Carroll University professor Pacia Sallomi depicting Argentina’s contribution to music and dance, the tango, as bodies in a dark blur of motion, as well as a cache of work by one of Argentina’s prominent contemporary Jewish artists, Mirta Kupferminc. Her most striking piece, Borges y la Cábala, is hand-painted on parchment sheets and illustrates the interest of the country’s best-known author, Jorge Luis Borges, in the Jewish mystical tradition.

Through Jan. 17 at the Jewish Museum Milwaukee, 1360 N. Prospect Ave.


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