Background to this Series
In 1492, during the Spanish Inquisition, my ancestors were forced to leave the land they had thrived in for centuries, and made their way to Turkey, where they remained for over four hundred years. When my grandparents came to the United States, they still spoke Ladino—15th century Spanish—as their primary language. Middle Eastern style dance from Turkey was an integral part of my upbringing.
An important influence on my formative years was the women’s movement, often referred to as second wave feminism. I came to believe that women’s strengths comes from the qualities that distinguish us from men, rather than coming from being like men. My love of clothing and jewelry are a part of that aesthetic as much as the softness and curves of the female body – all of which are part of and emphasized in belly dancing. I studied dancing for nearly 20 years. The costumes and jewelry in the images are ones I made or acquired during that time.
My visual aesthetic was heavily influenced by Orientalist art. The overwhelmingly male artists and photographers who have worked in this genre have been rightly accused of creating a highly imaginary Western version of the East and employing the “male gaze.” However, the sheer romanticism, color and form of their works have long captivated me. Part of what I hope to accomplish with Dreams of Sepharad is to reconstrue the genre through the female gaze.
These photographs are the most personal work I’ve done because they reflect my life and my heritage. The portraits of the women are all set against backgrounds taken from photographs I captured while visiting the regions of Sephardic Spain. Some are images from Moorish architecture, but prior to the Inquisition, when both Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain, they were part of the same great empire. I’ve entitled this series Dreams of Sepharad. Sepharad is the name my ancestors had for Spain and “dreams” reflects the fact that the images are more about imagination than reality. Just as dreams draw from many diverse elements of our lives, so these images draw from mine.