Looking Jewish

Looking Jewish

Visual Culture and Modern Diaspora
Carol Zemel
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 06/29/2015
Format: Hardback 74 b&w illus., 2 maps
ISBN: 978-0-253-00598-4
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Jewish art and visual culture—art made by Jews about Jews—in modern diasporic settings is the subject of Looking Jewish. Carol Zemel focuses on particular artists and cultural figures in interwar Eastern Europe and postwar America who blended Jewishness and mainstream modernism to create a diasporic art, one that transcends dominant national traditions. She begins with a painting by Ken Aptekar entitled Albert: Used to Be Abraham, a double portrait of a man, which serves to illustrate Zemel's conception of the doubleness of Jewish diasporic art. She considers two interwar photographers, Alter Kacyzne and Moshe Vorobeichic; images by the Polish writer Bruno Schulz; the pre- and postwar photographs of Roman Vishniac; the figure of the Jewish mother in postwar popular culture (Molly Goldberg); and works by R. B. Kitaj, Ben Katchor, and Vera Frenkel that explore Jewish identity in a postmodern environment.

Author Bio

Carol Zemel is Professor Emerita of Art History and Visual Culture in the Department of Visual Arts at York University, Toronto.


“A series of reflective essays animated by a concern with ‘Jewish modernity’ through the lens of diaspora and assimilation . . . written by an art historian of great visual intelligence in the analysis of images and exceptional clarity in communicating that visual analysis in words.”
 — Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, New York University

“Adds to a growing literature on a neglected and misunderstood area in Jewish Studies and Art History, and as such, is a contribution to both and to the newer field of Visual Studies. . . . Zemel focuses on an understanding of diaspora that reveals the ways that Jews have negotiated their situation and acculturation through art and visual culture.”
 — Catherine Soussloff, University of British Columbia

“The book succeeds in enriching our sense of how Jewish artists responded to the particulars of their own often vulnerable states, creating a canon of work that continues to entice and provoke.”
 — Studies in Contemporary Jewry

“In the end, thanks to Carol Zemel’s provocative study, we are invited to look at Jewish art in new ways. Looking Jewish provides a deeper understanding of the ordeal of diaspora, along with a rich, if partial mapping of Jewish expressive  culture as seen through a diasporic lens.”
 — Studies in American Jewish Literature

“Zemel models a thoughtful, clear, and concise academic style without losing the reader in jargon, and she provides plenty of context and definitions to make the text accessible to readers unfamiliar with Jewish terms and concepts. The book is nicely produced and pleasant to read, with good black-and-white reproductions that illustrate the text well. Thorough endnotes, a detailed index, and an extremely rich bibliography further enhance the book's usability. . . . Highly recommended.”

“Zemel’s work is an important contribution to theoretical conceptions of diaspora. Additionally her work is significant for those working to expand attention given to visual culture in Jewish life and to rethink Jewish art history, offering astute case studies of images of and by Jews in several different contexts. ”
 — H-Judaic

“Through her engagement with diasporic art, Zemel makes an important contribution to ongoing debates in diaspora studies about how to conceive and study diaspora.”
 — Canadian Art Review

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Table of Contents

1. Beyond the Ghetto Walls: Shtetl to Nation in Photography by Alter Kacyzne and Moshe Vorobeichic
2. Modern Artist, Modern Jew: Bruno Schulz’s Diasporas
3. Z’chor! Roman Vishniac’s Photo-Eulogy of Eastern European Jews
4. Difference in Diaspora: The Yiddishe Mama, the Jewish Mother, the Jewish Princess and their Men
5. Diasporic Values in Contemporary Art: Kitaj, Katchor, Frenkel

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