Links

Commission for Racial Equality

Publisher of Catalyst Magazine, the CRE works to create a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued.

openDemocracy

Independent political discussion and debate based on exchange and participation.

Prospect Magazine

A political magazine, Prospect also includes features on arts and culture, science, economics, history, social affairs and philosophy.

Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust promotes a successful multi-ethnic Britain.

Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations is a race relations thinktank.

EUMC

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social policy research and development.

For more links, see our new links page.

Search Catalyst

Search For:


Promote Catalyst

If you are able to promote Catalyst in your workplace, university etc, please download our poster, a pdf which can be printed at A4 or A3 size.

Small print

Contributor and illustrator information

Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

rss logo | What is RSS?

This page was last updated on 03/08/2006 18:50:48

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo

 

Ingrained identities?
03 August 2006

Sonal, Halloween/Divali, Zoo Bar, Leicester Square - Georgina Bolton King

Alice Trouncer reviews an exhibition about the overlapping circles of ingrained identity.

Identities 2006 is an ambitious exhibition. In just two small rooms, it features over 125 photographs, the winners of a poetry competition, and a film featuring Jewish people talking about their understanding of identity. The result is a collection which presents a complex, shifting and compelling vision of what identity means in the modern world.

One contributor to the film describes Judaism as ‘the fabric of my life, because it’s what I do. I do Jewish, I see Jews, I live Jewish values

Emerging from the exhibition as a whole is an overarching sense of how the ingrained history shared between Jews interacts with a desire for integration and a recognition of the value of diversity. Many images show modern Jews and, to a lesser extent, people of other faiths taking part in ancient celebrations and rites. Others show people of all colours taking part in Jewish religious rites, Jews working with people of different faiths and cultures towards integration, and religious ceremony adapted for the modern world in the same-sex wedding of two Jewish girls. Identity is both something shared, and something understood in the context of the other identities that surround it. One contributor to the film describes Judaism as ‘the fabric of my life, because it’s what I do. I do Jewish, I see Jews, I live Jewish values; that’s what I am and who I am’. Another says ‘I love being a Jew in a multi-ethnic environment because it makes me challenge some of the choices I have made’.

However, the danger of defining identity by shared history is that it can lead to a sense of identity defined negatively – by what it is not. That form of exclusionary definition has an added element in relation to Judaism – definition by what they have suffered as a people. An image by Ian Lillicrap shows Leon Greenman OBE, as a haunted and haunting face confronting the viewer from behind a mesh of bars. A survivor of Auschwitz, he has to bar his windows after receiving threats from fascist groups for speaking out against racism. The image highlights an important aspect of Jews’ understanding of their cultural identity, summed up by Oona King’s words in the film: ‘I can’t put my hand on my heart and say that, if there had been no anti-Semitism, I would feel as Jewish as I do today’.

But, although fascinating, the exhibition risks failing to give any meaning to its plethora of different ideas. The grouping of the different elements is practical rather than thematic – these photographs were commissioned for the exhibition, these photographs are winners of the competition, these poems are winners of another competition. The intention appears to be that the many different exhibits convey, as one contributor to the film puts it, that ‘identity is a mosaic of all the different parts of my life’. But there is no structure to suggest what these ‘elements’ might be, and so the overall impression is not one of integration but of fragmentation.

Much of this exhibition’s strength lies in the fragments which do not fall under any of the main themes. Some images, poems and testimonials present identity as something defined by the individual. Gideon Levy, in his poem Definition, presents his father as, above all, an individual, defined by personal tastes: ‘The jumper, the tea, chair and the herring – / this defined Papa’. One contributor to the film describes himself as a very non-traditional Jew, but one whose faith has ‘more to do with my identity and knowing who I am’. Hideki Shimamura’s photograph, ‘My breakfast’, epitomises everyday life for people across the UK, no matter what their background – a cup of tea, a slice of toast on a plain table. The cup of tea, in this image as in that of Leon Greenman, is raised from the mundane to the meaningful.

The photograph is stark, beautiful and, most obviously, challenging – her stance is confident, even confrontational, and her expression sexually charged

One of the most powerful images in the exhibition is one of the winners of the photography competition, showing Sonal, a young Asian girl, celebrating both Haloween and Diwali at the Zoo Bar in Leicester Square, her devil horns presenting a striking contrast with her prominent religious tattoo. The photograph is stark, beautiful and, most obviously, challenging – her stance is confident, even confrontational, and her expression sexually charged. This provides one of the few glimpses of any struggle to reconcile faith and culture with modern life, in the midst of all these positive images of Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, celebrating their faiths and working together for integration. Throughout the rest of the exhibition, only a few of the voices in the film really express this struggle – Oona King describes her position as a black Jewish woman living in the UK as one of ‘juggling multiple identities and being everywhere and nowhere’.

Identities 2006 is fascinating, but it cannot encapsulate the complex nature of identity as something shifting and multi-faceted, and something for every individual to grapple with. Its ambition to present all of these facets in as complete a way as possible is both its triumph and its downfall.

Identities 2006 is on from 4 July - 12 November 2006, Jewish Museum, Camden Town.

Alice Trouncer is an editor at the CRE.

0 Comments
Leave a Comment
Name (required)
Email Address (never displayed)
Please type the following numbers for securityCaptcha Test Image
Enter a message

Please keep comments as succinct as possible. There is a technical limit of 5,000 characters (around 750 words) but keeping responses considerably shorter than this is generally a good idea.

We reserve the right to edit comments for both length and content.

Links

Identities 2006

Commission for Racial Equality

Publisher of Catalyst Magazine, the CRE works to create a just and integrated society, where diversity is valued.

openDemocracy

Independent political discussion and debate based on exchange and participation.

Prospect Magazine

A political magazine, Prospect also includes features on arts and culture, science, economics, history, social affairs and philosophy.

Runnymede Trust

The Runnymede Trust promotes a successful multi-ethnic Britain.

Institute of Race Relations

The Institute of Race Relations is a race relations thinktank.

EUMC

The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Social policy research and development.

For more links, see our new links page.

Search Catalyst

Search For:


Promote Catalyst

If you are able to promote Catalyst in your workplace, university etc, please download our poster, a pdf which can be printed at A4 or A3 size.

Small print

Contributor and illustrator information

Articles published in Catalyst do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Commission for Racial Equality.

For advertising or editorial enquiries, please .

rss logo | What is RSS?

This page was last updated on 03/08/2006 18:50:48

 

© Commission for Racial Equality 2007

 

CRE 30 years logo