Objects Tell Stories: Finding Hidden Meaning in Arlene... Read More
Jewish Museum intern Martina Ceppi reflects on a sculpture by artist Arlene Shechet in the Jewish Museum collection.
As an Argentinean student in New York City, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about myself, and about adapting to a different culture, during my recent internship at the Jewish Museum. Most importantly, I came to understand that although one may “travel light” to another country with a few necessities, one’s identity and knowledge from past experiences will always follow.
Travel Light (2017), on view now in the Jewish Museum exhibition Scenes from the Collection, is a contemporary sculpture by artist Arlene Shechet that combines her own experiences of the past, present, and future. At a glance, the work features several pairs of Sabbath candlesticks that appear to have been bundled into a small suitcase wrapped with a strap.
Upon closer inspection, there is a deeper story, beginning with the origin of the candlesticks: in 1920, Shechet’s grandmother brought them to the United States when she immigrated from Belarus. The candlesticks were the only material objects the family possessed from their country of origin. Near the bottom of the suitcase, a faint image of a page from her grandmother’s passport can be seen through the sculpture’s semi-transparent resin and wax material. The artist once said this about the work, which was commissioned for the Jewish Museum collection:
I wanted to do something that was very personal, that was also addressing the theme of immigration and movement that is historically at the core of the Jewish population, and that of many people in the world, especially in the 20th and 21st centuries.
What did Shechet mean to convey by titling her sculpture Travel Light? I become drawn to the work because of its open-ended invitation for each viewer to discover and interpret the meaning in their own way. The way I saw it, the story Shechet wanted to tell with this sculpture was one that was not only hers, but the stories of the many people before her.
Travel Light also inspired me to consider my own family’s story of immigration from Italy to Argentina. Although we always assumed that my mother’s great grandfather immigrated from Genoa, my family recently came across a surprising discovery. A few months ago, my grandmother began gathering documents to obtain an Italian passport, which required proof of where her grandfather was born. She soon discovered that Genoa was the city where my great great grandfather had taken a ship to travel to Argentina, and he was actually born somewhere else in Italy.
While creating this sculpture, Shechet learned about her own relatives and uncovered long-forgotten family documents, as well as new stories about her uncertain origins. My personal family story is still full of myths, but Travel Light has inspired me to begin searching for the truth.
— Martina Ceppi, Digital Marketing Intern
Arlene Shechet’s Travel Light is on view now in Scenes from the Collection. Learn more about internship opportunities at the Jewish Museum at TheJewishMuseum.org/Internships. The deadline to apply for fall is June 22.
Objects Tell Stories: Finding Hidden Meaning in Arlene Shechet’s “Travel Light” was originally published in The Jewish Museum on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.