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Illuminating an obscure culture in Latin America

Photo by Mary Knox Merrill.

A new collection of fourteen “artist’s books,” featuring captivating poems and magnificent artwork, highlights the rich culture of Jewish communities in Latin America, thanks to the efforts of Stephen Sadow, professor of Spanish and Latin American literature at Northeastern University.

Sadow recently returned from Argentina, where he cohosted an exhibit of these books at the Museo Judio de Buenos Aires (the Jewish Museum of Buenos Aires).

In creating the books, Sadow selected 14 poems, and then he and his Argentinian colleagues, Perla Bajder and Irene Jaievsky, chose 14 Jewish artists from across Latin America. Each artist was asked to take one poem and create a unique piece of art based on his or her interpretation of the poem. Handmade in Buenos Aires, each book includes the poem in Spanish; an English translation of it by Sadow and his co-translator, J. Kates; the artwork; and bilingual biographies of the poet and artist.

The poems deal with Jewish identity, mysticism, Old Testament themes, the Holocaust and the deadly 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Argentina, among other related topics. The artwork features a wide spectrum of techniques, from watercolor to digital images.

“The idea was to have a confluence of the poetry and art of that culture,” Sadow said. “There would be a Jewish poem, and then another Jewish artist would understand it and reflect it in art. Not only did we want to see the artwork, but how that artwork emerges from the poetry.”

In June, Sadow showcased the collection at the Latin American Jewish Studies Association conference in Arizona. He is now planning an exhibit at Northeastern.

Sadow’s work involving Latin America Jewish culture spans the last 30 years, and includes scholarly articles, literary translations, and trilingual (Spanish, English, Portuguese) anthologies. His “King David’s Harp:  Autobiographical Essays by Jewish Latin American Writers” was awarded the 1999 National Jewish Book Award.

“I want to discover and promote the work of a subculture in Latin America that has been totally ignored by rest of the world, and is itself quite fragmented,” said Sadow, who noted that there are an estimated 400,000 Jews living throughout Latin America.

Sadow recently completed a 200-page “open source” anthology that brings together the work of 13 Latin American Jewish poets from the 1960s to the present and includes his and Kates’ translations of those poems into Spanish.  Selected publications, including this anthology, can be found in the Northeastern Library’s digital archive.

“I want these poets to read each other’s poetry and the public to realize this kind of cultural work is being done throughout Latin America,” Sadow said.

View selected publications of Stephen Sadow in IRis, Northeastern’s digital archive.

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