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Mikael Levin, Cristina's History, Bissau, 2003
©Mikael Levin

Mikael Levin Cristina’s History

From Friday 9 April until Sunday 18 July 2010

Mikael Levin was born in New York in 1954 and has lived in Israel, France and the United States. He currently lives and works in New York.

Mikael Levin’s exclusively black and white photography questions the notions of identity, memory and therefore of forgetting. It takes the forms of investigations and explorations translated into visual images.  

Cristina’s History, awarded the Prix Maratier, is a visual narrative which, through the prism of the eternally dashed and rekindled hopes of European history, follows the story of four generations of the artist’s Jewish family, from Zgierz in central Poland to Lisbon and Guinea-Bissau. Each of these three places, photographed from 2003 to 2005, tells its own story, a patchwork of the biographies of the protagonists and the historic events to which they are linked.   

Cristina’s History dismisses any idea of continual progress. Yet neither nostalgia nor the affirmation of an intangible identity has a role to play. On the contrary, this history shows the possibility of inventing one’s life through a tradition.

Each of the three spaces comprises projected images (urban landscapes, family photos, manuscripts, period postcards), photographs and a text narrated by the artist evoking, via his family’s history, the history of modernity, wars, empires and colonialism. An adjoining room presents a selection of works by Mikael Levin’s grandfather, the painter and sculptor Marek Szwarc (Zgierz, 1892 – Paris, 1958) – the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme has a major collection of his works, donated by the artist’s daughter, Tereska Torres-Levin, and the family of the art critic Georges Brazzola.

Although Marek Szwarc is regarded as one of the artists of the School of Paris, the path that led him to the French capital was a singular one. Born into a family of intellectuals, he went to Paris in 1910, attending the École des Beaux-Arts and living and working at La Ruche, where he took part in the creation of the first Jewish art review, Makhmadim. In 1914, motivated by his love of Jewish and Polish culture, he returned to Poland, married the writer Evguenia Markova and participated in avante-garde movements such as Yung-Yidish. Both Jewish and Christian biblical themes, notably that of the Crucifixion, inspired his work. His conversion to Catholicism in 1919 turned him into a “Jewish Catholic”. He settled definitively in Paris where, frequenting Jacques Maritain’s entourage, he devoted himself principally to religious art. In 1940, he joined the Polish army in France then in Scotland in the fight against Nazism.
He died suddenly in Paris in 1958.

Cristina’s History was coproduced by Point du Jour (Cherbourg) and the Museu Colecção Berardo (Lisbon), who copublished the book.  

Texts by:

  • Jonathan Boyarin, specialist in modern Jewish studies, author of Pouvoirs de Diaspora (Editions du Cerf, 2007)
  • Jean-François Chevrier, art historian, whose publications include a monography on Jeff Wall (Editions Hazan, 2006)
  • Carlos Schwarz, agronomist living in Guinea-Bissau and the artist’s cousin. 

French-English-Portuguese edition. 164 pages. 124 colour photographs. 32 euros.

The Prix Maratier

The aim of the Fondation Pro-mahJ – heir to the Fondation Kikoïne and created on the initiative of Claire Maratier, the artist’s daughter, under the auspices of the Fondation du Judaïsme français – is to support the activities of the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme. Intent on recalling the interest in contemporary painters that she shared with her husband Amédé Maratier, Claire awards the Prix Maratier every two years and organises an exhibition of the artist’s work in the Kikoïne room in the Musée d’art et d’histoire du Judaïsme.