The Invisible Museum: History and Memory of Morocco

Case Study No. 8
On View: 
Aug 29, 2017 to Jun 29, 2018

Since its inception in 1962, the former Judah L. Magnes Museum distinguished itself by directing its collecting efforts outside the focus on European Jewish culture and history that was prevalent among American Jewish museums at the time. During the 1970s and 1980s, its founders, Seymour and Rebecca Fromer, actively corralled an informal team of activist collectors and supporters. Together, they were able to bring to Berkeley art and material culture from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Indian subcontinent. Their legendary “rescue missions”—collecting trips aimed at retrieving Jewish cultural objects in locations where Jews had once thrived—were further complemented by careful acquisitions carried out by exploring the catalogs of major and lesser-known auction houses, and especially by visiting art dealers in Israel, where many Jews from the lands of Islam had resettled.

These collecting patterns are particularly evident in the case of the stunning holdings that document the history and memory of Jewish communities in Morocco. Acquired in tourist shops across the Moroccan centers where Jews once lived—Tétouan, Tangier, Casablanca, Fez, and Marrakech—as well as through forays into the remote locations in the Atlas mountains that separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines of Morocco from the Sahara desert, the hundreds of ritual objects, textiles, illustrated marriage contracts, and manuscripts now at The Magnes are the bearers of a narrative that is at once very ancient and extremely modern.

 

Heirs to a history that harkens back to antiquity, the Jewish communities of Morocco carry many layers of memory and change, from the rise of Islam to the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, the European colonization of Africa, and the Holocaust. Most Moroccan Jews abandoned their ancestral home en masse during the 1950s, with smaller numbers remaining through the 1960s and 70s, relocating primarily to Israel, France, and North America (especially Francophone Quebec). What they left behind, along with an important network of intercultural relations and the deep memories of their ancient presence, also included communal buildings, and, especially, many objects. Brought out of Morocco, these remainings inform today a diaspora within the diaspora, a museum of the invisible, the texture of which is preserved in public and private collections worldwide.

The Invisible Museum project started with a multi-year exploration of the Moroccan holdings of The Magnes. The resulting exhibition offers a probing insight into how cultural objects, once the cherished belongings of individuals, families, and communities, may often be abandoned in the process of migration, or sold by immigrants seeking to rebuild their lives in a new land, before they become part of a museum collection.

~Francesco Spagnolo


The Invisible Museum
History and Memory of Morocco
Case Study No. 8

Exhibition team:
Curator: Dr. Francesco Spagnolo
Faculty Advisor: Prof. Emily Gottreich
Curatorial Assistant: Zoe Lewin
Undergraduate Curatorial Assistant: Sarah Klein
Research: Noam Sienna (University of Minnesota); Anat Mooreville (UC Davis)
Registrars: Julie Franklin and Rebecca Hisiger
Preparator: Ernest Jolly
Marketing and Social Media: Lisa Davis
Design: Gordon Chun Design


The Invisible Museum: History and Memory of Morocco, Brochure by magnesmuseum on Scribd

Partners

Major funding for The Magnes comes from the Helzel Family Foundation, Koret Foundation, Magnes Leadership Circle, Magnes Museum Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, and The Office of the Chancellor at the University of California, Berkeley.

Support for this exhibition was provided by the Koret Foundation, the Maurice Amado Foundation in memory of Bernice Labé Amado (z’l), and her parents Theodore and Reina Labé (z’l), made upon the recommendation of Honey, Theodore, and Ellen Amado, and the Hon. and Mrs. Stuart R. Pollak.

Research for this project was made possible in part by funds and resources provided by the Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program (URAP) at the University of California, Berkeley.

Exhibitions Information
Location: 
The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life
Opening Hours: 
Tuesday-Friday 11am-4pm
2121 Allston Way
Berkeley, CA
United States
Exhibition Resources
Media Galleries

Images

Hanukkah lamp

Brass
Judah L. Magnes Museum purchase
 
Many Moroccan lamps use Islamic architectural forms and symbols shared by Jewish and Muslim art, such as the hamsa, the hand-shaped symbol believed to offer protection against the evil eye.
 
[75-250.jpg]
Wedding Dress (Morocco, 20th century)

Wedding Dress (Morocco, 20th century)

Wedding Dress (Morocco, 20th century)

Wedding dress from Taddana, Morocco. Includes (a) a short sleeved bodice (gonbaiz) in "Rabat style," eight filligree balls on both sides of the front opening, an applique gold woven and plaited bands, with white cotton lining; (b) a purple velvet plastron from shoulder to breast with metallic embroidery, no back section, and an embroidered section stiffened with heavy brown paper; and (C) a wrap-around skirt (jelteta) with gold starburst at hip, a front wrap with concentric arcs of gold woven bands and three rows of gold woven bands edge the skirt, with line in blue cotton and red damask and top edge in red damask.

Accession no. 75.183.166

View Magnes Database Record

Videos

Arrest in Morocco While Trying to Help a Jewish Refugee

Arrest in Morocco While Trying to Help a Jewish Refugee

Magnes co-founder, Seymour Fromer, talks about being arrested in Morroco when trying to help a Jewish refugee. 

During the political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jews fled their homes and communities in and around India, North Africa, and the former Ottoman Empire. As much of this material culture was being actively destroyed, artifacts from these communities were at risk of vanishing altogether. In response, Magnes co-founders Rebecca and Seymour Fromer, curator Ruth Eis, and volunteer Rabbi Bernard Kimmel traveled to these areas, sometimes at great personal risk, to collect and preserve these materials for future generations. These unique objects were researched as part of the museum's multi-year Collection Access Project, which will enable the museum to dramatically improve the care, interpretation, and exhibition of the permanent collection.

This video was filmed as part of the Museum Loan Network grant Collecting Stories: Connecting Objects and the exhibition Journeys East, Patterns of Collecting. 

Alla Efimova, Magnes Chief Curator, interviewed Rebecca and Seymour Fromer and Ruth Eis on April 20, 2006 at the home of Ruth Eis in Oakland, CA. Filming by Perian Sully and editing by Casondra Sobieralski.

Receiving a Male Bridal Gown in Morocco

Receiving a Male Bridal Gown in Morocco

Magnes co-founder, Rebecca Fromer, tells the story of receiving a white bridal caftan in Morocco.

During the political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jews fled their homes and communities in and around India, North Africa, and the former Ottoman Empire. As much of this material culture was being actively destroyed, artifacts from these communities were at risk of vanishing altogether. In response, Magnes co-founders Rebecca and Seymour Fromer, curator Ruth Eis, and volunteer Rabbi Bernard Kimmel traveled to these areas, sometimes at great personal risk, to collect and preserve these materials for future generations. These unique objects were researched as part of the museum's multi-year Collection Access Project, which will enable the museum to dramatically improve the care, interpretation, and exhibition of the permanent collection.

This video was filmed as part of the Museum Loan Network grant Collecting Stories: Connecting Objects and the exhibition Journeys East, Patterns of Collecting. 

Alla Efimova, Magnes Chief Curator, interviewed Rebecca and Seymour Fromer and Ruth Eis on April 20, 2006 at the home of Ruth Eis in Oakland, CA. Filming by Perian Sully and editing by Casondra Sobieralski.

Home Synagogues of Moroccan Families

Home Synagogues of Moroccan Families

Magnes co-founder, Rebecca Fromer, describes the home synagogues of Moroccan families.

During the political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jews fled their homes and communities in and around India, North Africa, and the former Ottoman Empire. As much of this material culture was being actively destroyed, artifacts from these communities were at risk of vanishing altogether. In response, Magnes co-founders Rebecca and Seymour Fromer, curator Ruth Eis, and volunteer Rabbi Bernard Kimmel traveled to these areas, sometimes at great personal risk, to collect and preserve these materials for future generations. These unique objects were researched as part of the museum's multi-year Collection Access Project, which will enable the museum to dramatically improve the care, interpretation, and exhibition of the permanent collection.

This video was filmed as part of the Museum Loan Network grant Collecting Stories: Connecting Objects and the exhibition Journeys East, Patterns of Collecting. 

Alla Efimova, Magnes Chief Curator, interviewed Rebecca and Seymour Fromer and Ruth Eis on April 20, 2006 at the home of Ruth Eis in Oakland, CA. Filming by Perian Sully and editing by Casondra Sobieralski.

Acquiring and Transporting Memorial Lamps from Morocco

Acquiring and Transporting Memorial Lamps from Morocco

Magnes co-founder, Rebecca Fromer, talks about how Jewish memorial lamps were rescued and transported.

During the political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jews fled their homes and communities in and around India, North Africa, and the former Ottoman Empire. As much of this material culture was being actively destroyed, artifacts from these communities were at risk of vanishing altogether. In response, Magnes co-founders Rebecca and Seymour Fromer, curator Ruth Eis, and volunteer Rabbi Bernard Kimmel traveled to these areas, sometimes at great personal risk, to collect and preserve these materials for future generations. These unique objects were researched as part of the museum's multi-year Collection Access Project, which will enable the museum to dramatically improve the care, interpretation, and exhibition of the permanent collection.

This video was filmed as part of the Museum Loan Network grant Collecting Stories: Connecting Objects and the exhibition Journeys East, Patterns of Collecting. 

Alla Efimova, Magnes Chief Curator, interviewed Rebecca and Seymour Fromer and Ruth Eis on April 20, 2006 at the home of Ruth Eis in Oakland, CA. Filming by Perian Sully and editing by Casondra Sobieralski.

Traveling to and Transporting Artifacts from Morocco

Traveling to and Transporting Artifacts from Morocco

Magnes co-founder, Rebecca Fromer, tells some of the stories about transporting artifacts from Morocco.

During the political upheavals of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Jews fled their homes and communities in and around India, North Africa, and the former Ottoman Empire. As much of this material culture was being actively destroyed, artifacts from these communities were at risk of vanishing altogether. In response, Magnes co-founders Rebecca and Seymour Fromer, curator Ruth Eis, and volunteer Rabbi Bernard Kimmel traveled to these areas, sometimes at great personal risk, to collect and preserve these materials for future generations. These unique objects were researched as part of the museum's multi-year Collection Access Project, which will enable the museum to dramatically improve the care, interpretation, and exhibition of the permanent collection.

This video was filmed as part of the Museum Loan Network grant Collecting Stories: Connecting Objects and the exhibition Journeys East, Patterns of Collecting. 

Alla Efimova, Magnes Chief Curator, interviewed Rebecca and Seymour Fromer and Ruth Eis on April 20, 2006 at the home of Ruth Eis in Oakland, CA. Filming by Perian Sully and editing by Casondra Sobieralski.

Exhibition Open Dates: 
Tuesday, August 29, 2017 to Friday, July 27, 2018