This piece was first published on The Arty Semite blog at the Forward.
When Mordecai Manuel Noah, the most influential Jew in the United States in the early 19th-century, tried to establish a refuge for Jews called “Ararat” on Grand Island, New York, he failed miserably. Efforts to establish the colony in 1825 went no further than a big kick-off event in Buffalo, which was followed by a resounding lack of interest and support by American and international Jews. Now, 187 years later, three art professors are bringing Ararat to life — at least virtually.
“Mapping Ararat: An Imaginary Jewish Homeland Project” is the brainchild of multimedia artist and University of Toronto professor Melissa Shiff, her husband Louis Kaplan, a cultural historian at U of T, and John Craig Freeman, a new media expert from Emerson College in Boston. The project will be part of “Where To?” a group exhibit opening April 28 at the Israeli Center for Digital Art in Holon.
Fascinated by the subject of alternative Jewish homelands and the 19th century and the debates between proto-Zionists and Territorialists (who called for creating large, not necessarily autonomous, Jewish territories outside the Land of Israel), Shiff, Kaplan and Freeman decided to harness cutting-edge digital art and technology in an attempt to answer the “what if” questions that have lingered for close to two centuries.
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© 2012 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.