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The Radiant Portal

ZVI SUCHET'S

Welcome to the interactive virtual exhibition of Zvi Suchet's The Radiant Portal. The travelling debut collection of the South African artist's Jewish Magical Realism is currently on show at The South African Jewish Museum.

       

*Best viewed on desktop / laptop

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The Discussion

Zvi Suchet

2019

One of my favourite elements of Judaism is the openness and encouragement to discuss and debate. The reader of Jewish texts does not simply read words printed on a page, the reader is an active player on the page and with the page - a vocal participant in the conversation. This was very special to me, especially as a child. Where other school subjects were taught in strict confines of “right and wrong”, Jewish Studies allowed me to express myself, to have my thoughts heard. Looking back, I realise that so many of my youthful thoughts were misguided but nevertheless my Rabbi would always give me respect and attention. Today I still cherish this uniquely inclusive culture, the sight and sounds of the Jewish debate is simply beautiful and connects us to what must almost certainly be the longest conversation in history.

Adom Adam Adamah

Zvi Suchet

2019

During prayer, I often imagine being surrounded by the colour red. The colour red (adom) is the colour of blood and is symbolically tied to life and vitality. The Hebrew word for blood (dam), is derived from the same root as the word for man (adam), and earth (adamah). The colour red is also mentioned in many instances of the Torah – from the Red Heifer to Yehudah’s eyes; Esau’s complexion when he was born, and even Jacob’s lentil porridge! I wanted to show the enveloping red of prayer and decided to show this as a tall tree with red leaves. Trees, of course, have plenty of Jewish symbolism, and here the tree rises high above the man in prayer, representing the immense knowledge that awaits.

7 Days in Jerusalem

Zvi Suchet

2019

During my Barmitzvah year I heard a shiur by Rabbi Ivan Lerner. He told a story about a young boy that went to shul for the first time in his life. He was from a poor family and he did not know how to read. At first he sat in silence but he was so compelled to join in that he began to recite the one thing he knew – the aleph bet (Hebrew alphabet). The congregants laughed at the boy but later the rabbi explained that the intention was so pure that the angels of heaven would order the letters into prayer.  As a child (and indeed into adulthood) I would sit silently during morning prayers and think of visuals and symbols and build vivid scenes in my mind, inspired by the Jewish sights and sounds around me. It is my hope that these are accepted in the heavens as my sincerest form of prayer. I have kept each scene alive in my mind for all these years and it is a joy to be able to finally share them.

The Boys of Sabbath

Zvi Suchet

2019

Although Shabbat is a magical time for all ages, I believe it is especially enchanting for children. I was particularly excited at being privy to the weekly celebration with adults. Sitting at the candle-lit Shabbat table, surrounded by excited adult chatter made me feel grown up and included in the “bigger world”. Here I represent the three “faces” of the Sabbath as I remember it – wonder, learning and imagining. My visual device of birds (as I use regularly) have a dual symbolism: spiritually they represent the soul and a link to our past, present and future. Visually, the birds’ blurred movement is suggestive of a quiet, caught moment. I use doves (Yonah) as they were the only domesticated birds among the Israelites, so for me they form part of the Jewish visual story.

The composition was designed so that the placement of the boys echoed the Hebrew letter “shin”. On my path through life I have always looked to the magical twenty-first letter of the alef-beis. It is an incredibly powerful visual that has endless meaning. The three lines of the shin may be interpreted as three general dimensions of a human being: Kesser (will and pleasure), the intellect, and the emotions.

I chose to use a forest backdrop to give the sense of the Shabbat table transporting us to another world. The branches of the trees in the backdrop spell out the word ועעו which translates to “and look”. Each of the elements - wonder, learning and imagining – are ultimately about looking and seeing the world in a specific way. I like using an “and” at the start of a word because it implies everything that comes before it.

 
 
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I dream of you

to wake

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

The Chumash

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Although there is nothing more romantic than reading directly from the Torah, the Chumash allows us to be able to hold the text in your hand! My particular favourite is the Chumash-Rashi – with Rashi’s forever relevant insights in the columns. My visual imagining shows a rabbi with a Chumash in his hand, the smoke of spiritual mystery swirls around him, while the book remains unclouded – within here lies all the answers to be discovered over a lifetime.

I Carried You

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

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Mizrah (East)

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Ha-Kotel (The Wall)

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

One of the most special moments in my life was (finally), at age 17, visiting The Western Wall for the first time. Like all Jews, I grew up with the image of the Kotel firmly imprinted in my mind. Prayer at the wall is a heavenly spiritual experience that can only be understood by those that have experienced it. One can feel the Divine presence here and also the sheer overwhelming marvel of standing at the very stones of history. The Sages of the Talmud tell us that for anyone who prays at the Temple in Jerusalem, "it is as if he has prayed before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayer."

a little past midnight

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

I created this piece out of a sense of loneliness and personal introspection. In 2019 I had decided to impose my own “lockdown” in order to create my first collection. I found that my inspiration came at night and I noticed a pattern, where my lightbulb moments always seemed to come just after midnight. After researching and reading interpretations of the Talmud during the day, I would begin to see things from a different perspective. I would often look at myself in the mirror, contemplating my physical human-ness but also that it is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of my spiritual being. Simply a vessel, no more no less. This stripping away of identity is shown in the unworldly opposite reflection of myself, while the bird (a metaphor for the spiritual), appears in clear view.

Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

As fondly remembered from childhood - Ikh Bin A Kleyner Dreydl (I am a little dreidel) is the Yiddish name for the popular “Dreidel Song”. While the simple game of Dreidel is not actually a mitzvah of Hanukkah (the only traditional mitzvot are lighting candles and saying the full Hallel), I have still chosen to show it visually in “floating” spiritual reverence. The game was developed by Jews who illegally studied the Torah in seclusion as they hid in caves from the Seleucids under Antiochus IV. At the first sign of Seleucids approaching, their Torah scrolls would be concealed and replaced by dreidels. Besides this historical significance, spinning a dreidel is a direct link to our heritage – what a marvellous thing to play the same games as previous generations! Although many of today’s dreidels replace the Shin with the letter Peh (to complete the Hebrew acronym for “a great miracle happened there”, the Shin has always been my favourite letter – a visual “crown” with multiple great meanings and reminders of how to live life.

The Rabbi of Tuscany

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

The Shofar

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

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A Light in the Dark

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

The tradition of kindling the Shabbat candles – bringing light to the dark - is both ancient and beautiful. At its core, Shabbat is a celebration of G‑d’s creation of the world. Mothers and daughters symbolically light the candles as a reminder of G-d’s first act of creation – the bringing of light. For me Shabbat itself is a “light” in the week, it’s perhaps a strange thing to explain but beyond the candlelight, everything appears to be slightly illuminated for me during the Shabbat meal and I have tried to express that through this piece.

Rabbi in Field

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Yerushalayim shel Zahav

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

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The Rabbi of Port Louis

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

This piece is dedicated to Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft – the legendary South African “Travelling Rabbi”. His story is a most remarkable one and I can highly recommend reading his memoirs “The Travelling Rabbi: My African Tribe”. Rabbi Silberhaft is known as the rabbi with “the largest congregation in the world, but not in numbers”. He covers an area of 15 000 square metres encompassing 13 countries from South Africa in the south to the Congo, Uganda and Kenya in the north and the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar and Mauritius. From circumcisions and bar and bat mitzvahs to weddings and funerals, The Travelling Rabbi greatly impacts the lives of Jews in far-flung small or non-existent communities. What a romantic story! I decided to name this piece after the region of Port Louis on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius – where I spend much time visiting family.

Zvi Suchet handing a print of “The Rabbi of Port Louis” to Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft.

 

Cape Town, South Africa 7th October 2019.

 

Photo: Lisa Marsden

Lessons of the Fox

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Artist's Sketch

  

Zvi Suchet

c. 1997

The artist kept a journal during his school years with notes and ideas for artworks. Many of these were revisited to 2019 to produce the collection

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The Jew of Vilnius

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Like most Jews of my community in South Africa, we can trace our recent lineage to the lands of Eastern Europe. I know that my great great grandparents were from Vilnius, Lithuania, where they were forced to flee from prosecution. But sadly, I have little further information about their lives. I can only use my imagination to recreate what life must have been like for them. Unsurprisingly much of the Jewish folktales from this part of the world are centred around the darkness of winter. I think of the cold bitter winters and how spiritually trying that must have been for them – so distant from my experience at the sunny tip of Africa. The Torah contains numerous mentions of snow, which is often used as a metaphor for purity. The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew, spoke of snow as “a vessel of spiritual light in the darkest days of the year”. When thinking of how I wanted to portray the snow of Vilnius, I thought of the Hebrew word for snow – sheleg -  which has a numerical (gematria) of 333, the same as the word shich'cha, which means forgetfulness. I could imagine snow as being an all-enveloping whiteness – a total absence of colour and texture and sound. I could imagine the small figure of my great great grandfather against this great barren landscape, and how incredibly important the Talmud must have been as a guiding light.

The Ascent

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

I have always regularly imagined the visual of Jacob and his dreaming encounter of the Ladder. Classically, this scene is interpreted as the departure and elevation of the angels that accompanied Jacob in Israel and the descent of the angels that would accompany him in his journeys. Kabbalistically, the ladder (Sulam) is the connection between G‑d and the ethereal with our physical world. I have always visualised the land as being the physical, world (a place where we get so easily caught up in the material). During prayer I feel as if I am in water – an environment where one feels both a sense weightlessness and a “tide” that takes you towards a direction if you allow it. Out of the waters of prayer, away from the shore, I imagine the first rungs of the ladder. Only when one ascends the ladder of creation does one perceive true reality, allowing a cleaer and more focused perspective upon re-entry into earthly spheres.

Gan Eden

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Tekiah-Teruah-Tekiah

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

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The Song of Us

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

The Nightingale

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Renowned for his hauntingly emotive voice, the late Max Badash was the chazzan (cantor) of Gardens Shul for many years, as well as a dear family friend. Cantor Badash’s grandfather was one of the most celebrated chazzans of Eastern Europe. He was known as “The Nightingale”, a nickname earned from childhood when he would hide in a tree and sing - tricking passers-by into thinking he was a nightingale. The period between the two world wars is often referred to as the "golden age" of Chazzanim. For inspiration while producing my work I often listen to recordings of legendary voices such as Moshe Koussevitzky, Frank Birnbaum and Yitzchak Meir Helfgot. 

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Soul

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

the form of my hands

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Vos Iz Neias?

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

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Lehadlik ner shel Shabbat

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

The coming of Shabbat is a truly enchanting time for children. Before sunset on each Friday evening I would watch my older sister and mother welcome in the Sabbath by lighting the candles. I always found it a beautiful ritual and secretly wished I could do it too (but I was also more than happy with my personal task of blessing the bread and wine!) The encircling of the hands over the flames is beautifully feminine and delicate and I could tell it was always a special bonding moment for my mother and sister. Candlelight has many meanings in Judaism – they remind us of G-d’s presence as well as Shabbat as a holy space. The candle's flame is also thought to symbolically represent the human soul and serves as a reminder of the frailty and beauty of life. By lighting the two candles, mother and daughter keep the ancient tradition alive - a symbolic reminder of the biblical requirements to keep (shamor v'zachor) and enjoy (oneg Shabbat) the Sabbath. 

B'Didut (Solitude)

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

B'Didut (Solitude)

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Yesterday, Today

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

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Cape of Good Hope

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Aliyah

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

I’m regularly asked about the symbolism of the birds that are present in most of my pieces. According to Jewish mythology, in the Garden of Eden there is a Tree of Souls that blossoms and produces new souls. It is believed that sparrows can see the soul's descent, explaining their joyous chirping. Jewish legends envision souls as bird-like. In fact the Guf (Treasury of Souls) is sometimes described as a “birdhouse”. For me, birds are a metaphor for the soul, they are able to pass between heaven and earth and they remind me of the constant presence of the spiritual world. I began my career as a wildlife photographer and I was always drawn to birds, flittering so easily between the land and the sky. Capturing them in graceful flight always felt like I had caught a glimpse into the spiritual realm.

The Radiant Portal

  

Zvi Suchet

2019

Turn Volume On

Artist's Sketch

  

Zvi Suchet

c. 1997

The artist kept a journal during his school years with notes and ideas for artworks. Many of these were revisited to 2019 to produce the collection

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End of Show

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South African Fine Artist producing Jewish Magical Realism

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© 2020 by Zvi Suchet. All images, text and video copyright Zvi Suchet