Cynthia Beth Rubin
La Synagogue de Bruxelles
The large Synagogue in Brussels in only 100 years old, and yet it speaks to the legacy of generations. The first designs for this structure were rejected by the local zoning boards, who felt that there were not "Oriental" enough, and the result is building that echoes the ornate patterning of older Synagogues in many parts of the world.
Just as Brussels incorporates several cultures into the fabric of the city, so does the Synagogue. This image is the record of my experience in this place, of imaging the mixture of worshipers who came to this Synagogue from Sephardic and Ashkenaskie backgrounds, mingling differences in language, religious practice, and history. The grandeur of the building brings them together, like the fabric of the old faded Torah cover that is at the right of the image.
The Golden Age of Spain was a reference that I heard often in my childhood. I remember trying to envision this place where great ideas were brought to fruition in courtyards and narrow streets. This image is a tribute to that era.
Images taken from the remaining vestiges of Spanish Synagogues are mixed with the architecture of the streets of today and yesterday. In the center of the image, in purple, within one arch we see what is left of the arch for the Torah scrolls in Cordoba, and we see pillars from the Roman era within another. In yet another archway both text and texture from the Toledo Synagogue are intermingled, and the arches themselves come from the walls of the Toledo Synagogue.
This is where people both great and ordinary worshipped, discussed, walked, and lived.
Old House in the Shadow
Of the Castle
Hidden in the woods and brush near Topolcianky, Slovakia, is an old house completely enveloped by twisting trees and vines. The house is located just past the castle that once was the summer residence of the Hapsburg family, where Marie Antoinette spent her summers as a child. This is one of those special places where the visitor feels connected to history, where rather than feeling the cold depression of abandonment, one immediately senses the happy times of an elegant bourgeois family walking through the many rooms, and sitting on the front porch that still bears traces of frescoes. It is possible to imagine that, in such close proximity to the castle, the family played some role in royal life, and lived knowing that they were dependent on the monarchy. One even sense the power of the Revolution, and of the changes that it set in motion.
Time does not stand still as one moves through this place; it fluctuates from distant past, to upheaval, and then to the present. Nor are the visual reflections of the visitor singularly focused; in the moments of actually looking that house, of later thinking back to the visit, the images of the house, the overgrown garden, the woods, and the castle all become intertwined.
My visit to New Castle was in the month of November, when gray skies matched the gray of the buildings.
It was the beauty of the bridges that caught my eye, but it was the stone of the factories and the industrial depots that stayed with me.
I visited a cold industrial space that had been transformed into an exhibition space for artists, where the industrial past of New Castle has become intermingled with the new energy of creative culture.
The legacy of true hard work is what carries this city in my mind. This is a lived in city, a worked in city, a city whose glamour is in the solidity of buildings built for hard work
Safed Hiding Places
In 1492, a beautifully illuminated Hebrew Bible fled Spain in the arms of expelled Jews, who found comfort in the teachings of mysticism and safety in the hidden caves of Safed. While they protected and studied the Bible, they wondered what forces had caused such upheaval in their exterior world.
Safed Hiding Places is about this moment in history. It is about a real occurrence that continues to be repeated in various forms. An outside force causes everything to shift in a flash, and only culture, memory, and a few precious objects persist.
Eventually the Bible made its way to Marseilles, where I befriended it. Throughout the years, I turned to the carpet pages painted in 1260, in Toledo, and found a certain sense of history and connection with the past. While my earlier works, such as the Marseilles Bible: Memories of Spain, borrow visual form from the Bible, this image is a tribute to the Bible's own story.
Orchard Street Synagogue
The image of the old Orchard Street Synagogue in New Haven, Connecticut, is a celebration of the history of coming to America.
Woven into this image are pieces of American culture: the flag, an eagle, and yet the work reflects the European sensibilties of the immigrant generation who built this Synagogue.
We are invited to imagine ourselves sitting in the pews of this Synagogue, looking up, looking out the window, thinking of life inside and outside the communal structure.
It is part of a series of images representing memories from both cultural and personal histories
The Cathedral of St. Andrews, in Scotland, is no longer in use. The ceiling fell down centuries ago, leaving the visitor in the space between interior and exterior where walls stand to define nothing but the past. In a cold winter rain in Scotland, the space is today being reclaimed by the hills that still carry the sense of the sacred meanings of the past.
Incorporated into this image is are just a few pieces of the Cathedral, weathered into irregular forms but still cultural artifacts. Mixed with them are images of the landscape, which is indistinguishable from the church in this special place.
It is nearly a year since I visited Senegal, the country of crossed diagonals. Some countries are built on elegant arches, some are built on strong straight lines, but Senegal is built on lines both crooked and straight, reaching and overlapping in entanglements of support.
It begins with the brush: jagged lines of crocked trees, thin lines of grass. And sand. A country of sand, of brown bits of abrasive earth that penetrate every constructed space, every interior, every attempt at resistance, gently softening the surfaces of everything it touches.
Siberian Summer Tales
On the day that I arrived in Russia, I flew across the mountains and plains into the Siberian sunrise. Looking for a connection, I spent the first early morning in Novosibirsk walking among the high rise Soviet-era apartments, and discovered a few remaining wooden houses, nearly forsaken vestiges of the past.
In Siberian Summer Tales, the goal was to recreate the feeling of the homes of the people who resisted moving to Soviet-era housing, who occupy a hidden enclave of traditional Russia on the edge of Novosibirsk. Too shy to shoot pictures of these houses, I worked from a composite of other Siberian photographs, melding vegetation and houses as they are melded in this community.
Trnava Synagogue uses the images of an empty Synagogue to remind us of that the stories of the past are always with us. The images are taken from a Synagogue in Trnava, Slovakia, which is no longer active. Preserved as a homage to the deported Jewish Community, today the Synagogue is kept as a museum and exhibition space, inviting the visitor to reflect on the significance of the emptiness.
Central to this image are the Menorahs, which today are exhibited in glass cases in the Synagogue, but frequently presented as a symbol of Jewish identify. In the lower part of the image, branches of the menorahs are intertwined with images of tree branches and roots taken in another part of Slovakia. The background of the image juxtaposes several views of the interior of the Synagogue, simultaneously showing the walls in front of behind the viewer, as well as showing the woman's balcony.
The Wilder Building (Rochester, NY)
The Wilder Building in Rochester, NY, was a building of detective stories and shadowy black and white movies, where names were printed on translucent glass windows in heavy doors, and letters dropped through mysterious slots to be magically transported away.
It was here that my father, as a young attorney, set up his desk and swivel chair and awaited his future. This is where, in my imagination, Bronco the dog (his first client) came to see him, although I know in reality that Bronco stayed at home protecting the world from litigious mailmen. (my father won the case for Bronco)
In 1995, in the final weeks of my fatherÕs life, I gave him a print of my work Krakow, Prague, & Rochester. As I pointed out the hidden windows of the Wilder Building, his eyes lit up, and I knew that the memories of the Wilder Building were powerful enough to merit a work of their own.
Krackow, Prague, and Rochester (for my father)
Krackow, Prague, and Rochester (for my father) interlaces references to Jewish Eastern Europe with North American imagery. During the last summer of my father's life, I constructed this image out of various photographs of the three cities in the title mixed with traditional motifs.
Less than two weeks my father's death, I gave this image to him as a birthday present. Soon afterwards, as my sisters, my mother, and I each took our turns at his bedside, we each found ourselves drawn to this image, traveling through it to the imaginary place on the other side.
Cynthia Beth Rubin ©2020