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Jewish Treasures of the Caribbean: Documenting the Oldest Jewish Sites of the Western Hemisphere

September 20 – December 11, 2016 (Members’ Preview: Monday, September 19, 2016)

"For me, to trace our history has been an amazing experience. It made me have more respect for what Jews have gone through and have much more pride. My grandfather used to tell me, 'Our history is everything. Know the history of your people.' I was very honored to play my part to record this history, which is mostly unknown….This is the story of the birth of Judaism in the New World. The first Jews in the U.S. Came from these communities. It's very important their history be preserved." -Wyatt Gallery

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This exhibition photographically captures the little-known history of the Sephardic Jews of the Caribbean, as seen through the remaining historic sites in Barbados, Curaçao, Jamaica, Nevis, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Suriname. These Jewish communities date back to the early 1600s and are home to the oldest synagogues and Jewish cemeteries in the Western hemisphere. While these historic communities now face extinction, these modern day treasures beautifully exemplify the strength of the Jewish people, as well as the surprisingly diverse cultural history of the Caribbean.

HISTORY

In the 1600s, the West Indies became a place of salvation for Sephardic Jews who had fled to Amsterdam and Brazil after the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. La Nación, as these Jews were called, were fundamental in shaping the early Caribbean economy through their unique knowledge of sugar cane cultivation, agriculture and an expansive network of trade. Some Jews also joined the pirates controlling the Caribbean seas, and later became influential politicians, plantation owners and bankers to the American colonies. While creating financial success for the European powers, the Sephardic Jews managed to prosper and keep their culture, religion, and customs alive - which led to the continuation and support of Judaism throughout the Americas.

Once home to thousands of Sephardic Jews, only five synagogues remain and almost half of the original cemeteries are either falling apart, or have been lost to natural disasters, vandalism, pollution and the elements of time. The few historic landmarks still in use are little known gems of the Caribbean and invaluable landmarks in the Jewish history of survival. Through these photographs, we witness the legacy of Judaism and a rarely explored facet of Caribbean history.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

Wyatt Gallery received his BFA in photography at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 1997. In 1998, Wyatt received a Rosenberg grant and traveled the Caribbean, photographing spiritual sites for nine months. After spending a month in Trinidad, he knew he wanted to live there and he returned months later on a Fulbright Fellowship and spent two years photographing the diverse cultural history of Trinidad as seen through its religious sites, landscapes, people and their homes. Gallery has received numerous awards and his work has been widely published in books and magazines such as Esquire, The New York Times and Mother Jones. His photographs have been exhibited throughout the world and are in major private and public collections such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, George Eastman House, New Orleans Museum of Art and American Express. 

Exhibition Sponsor: Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Miami

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