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Letters from the Greater Maghreb #2

Dor Guez
Letters from the Greater Maghreb #2, 2021
Archival inkjet print
Work: 90 x 63.7 cm

Guez’s work plays on the tension between what one inherits—a language, a name, a place of origin— and what one reinvents over time. Stories are told and retold, and traces of the past are rediscovered, shedding light on little-known facts and familial chapters. One recent work, Letters from the Greater Maghreb, reflects a pivotal moment in Guez’s family history, when his grandparents—who both worked in theater—escaped from concentration camps in Nazi-occupied Tunisia and later, in 1951, immigrated to Israel. The journey was arduous and key personal documents were damaged by water during the trip. One of these was a manuscript written by his grandfather in Judeo-Tunisian Arabic, using what looks like a mix of Hebrew and Arabic characters. Taking the fragile pages of the surviving document and creating enlarged scans of the single sheets and sections, Guez intensifies themes of blurring and loss in the resultant prints, at once bringing the viewer closer to and farther away from the meaning of the original words. This visualization of disappearance evokes several cultural shifts simultaneously, particularly relating to language; Tunisian Jews adopted Hebrew as their language when they moved to Israel, and Judeo-Tunisian Arabic has begun to disappear. Duplication and fragmentation thus reify the immigrant’s experience of doubling and absence. Speaking of the visual devices at play in his work, Guez writes, “The words are engulfed in abstract spots and these become a metaphor for the harmonious conjunction between two Semitic languages, between one mother tongue and another, and between homeland and a new country.”1 Note 1: Dor Guez to Darsie Alexander, email, 2020. Extract from a text by Darsie Alexander (Susan and Elihu Rose Chief Curator at the Jewish Museum). Exhibition - Afterlives: Recovering the Lost Stories of Looted Art, The Jewish Museum, New York, New York