The CZA at the MoMA


From the exhibition "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII"

Recently, items from the Central Zionist Archives were displayed in a photography exhibition in the Museum of Modern Art in New York (MOMA), one of the preeminent museums of modern art in the world. The material appeared in Taryn Simon's photograph exhibition, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII”, which examined “bloodlines”, that is, family lineages and genealogies, as influenced by external and internal circumstance, around the world.
Simon visited the CZA in 2010 and spent a day photographing material, as well as views of the storage spaces in the Archives, and provided us with a fascinating glimpse into the work of a conceptual artist.
The bloodline presented in the exhibition for which material from the CZA was shown, was that of Arthur Ruppin (1876-1943), an economist and sociologist, who became one of the leading personalities in pre-State Palestine, head of the Palestine Office in Jaffa, head of the Agricultural Settlement Office of the Jewish Agency, and later on, a member of the Jewish Agency Executive. The portraits of members of Ruppin’s family are exhibited in the portrait panel, a brief summary of his life is given in the annotation panel, and various items related to his activities are presented in the footnote panel, mostly items from the Central Zionist Archives.
Arthur Ruppin’s descendants appear alongside bloodlines from Bosnia, Australia, India and other countries. The photographs from each work reveal a multi-faceted story of a bloodline, interwoven with an equally complex story of the host country or region.
From the exhibition "A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII"
Yet Taryn Simon’s work is as much about cataloging and curating as it is about the bloodlines themselves, as she explains in an interview for MOMA While photographing, she was continually searching for an “absolute catalog” – an all-inclusive system to curate and catalog stories and situations. She found in the bloodlines an absolute which, she says, she could not curate and to which she could not add. Simon adds: “The work in the end is almost constructed like an archive. There’s something which we can’t completely understand and we want to remember and record, but it's not necessarily clear in whatever language we know and in whatever documentation we’ve collected. It is in the space between all of it”.
As noted on the MoMA  website, “A Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I–XVIII exploits photography's capacity to at once probe complex narratives in contemporary politics and organize this material according to classification processes characteristic of the archive, a system that connects identity, lineage, history, and memory.”
In addition, Taryn Simon gave a TED talk on the exhibition. To listen to it, click on the link.
Among the archival material from the CZA that appeared in the exhibition are a map of South Africa submitted to the World Zionist Organization in 1905 during the debates regarding a Jewish settlement in Uganda, a National Fund illustration depicting the "pyramid of the Jewish national home", and some personal documents of Arthur Ruppin.