Spectator – The Taboo Expressionist

The earliest recorded use of the word “tattoo” is found in descriptions of a Tahitian ritual, written by British explorer Capt. James Cook during a 1769 voyage through the South Pacific.

Tattooing is an act of indelible self-expression. As such, it serves as an ideal vehicle for Jill Ciment’s new novel, “The Tattoo Artist.”

The book tells of Sara, a shop girl on Manhattan’s Lower East Side who, at the age of 18, trades her Yiddish-speaking parents and their crowded railroad tenement for an artist’s garret shared with Philip Ehrenreich, her genteel, bohemian husband. Philip loses his family’s fortune in the Depression, and he and Sara, an avant-garde painter herself, are sent to Ta’un’uu, an island in the South Pacific that is celebrated for its intricate tattoos and carved masks, to collect its exotic bounty for a shadowy and rich German industrialist. But their ship never returns to the island to pick them up.

Not unlike Gauguin’s “Tahiti,” the couple’s accidental home is lush, with natives luminescent in their tattoo-covered bodies. When tragedy strikes, Sara takes up the tattoo needle as a source of solace. The ties to her New York life are relinquished, and replaced with a priest-like position as one of the island’s tattoo artists.

Ciment has crafted the survival story of a woman who draws herself a history and identity using the needles and inks of another people.

The island’s tattoo artists sing a prayer while inserting the needle that, like a Torah, must be read in portions. Instead of chanting the Ta’uu’nin stories, Sara “sang the only songs I remembered, the ones my father had sung to me about the storybook yeshiva on the windy Russian steppes or the little union girl who takes on the boss.”

Midway through “The Tattoo Artist,” Philip explains to Sara the reason she needs to leave their adopted island: “because it’s not real.” He is correct. Borrowing from cultures she knows and cultures she has researched, Ciment has invented geography, a simplified composite containing strains of Polynesia and the Jewish Diaspora. Yet it is exactly the un-realness of the mix and the beauty of Ciment’s borrowings that make the island worth visiting.

Article courtesy The Forward.

Ariella Cohen is a writer living in Brooklyn.

‘Ferris’ Singer’s Day Off

When Spectator caught up with Monique Powell, lead singer of the pop sensation Save Ferris, she was wandering around Anaheim, tired, displaced and searching for food.

But this was no VH1 special in the making. After two years of nonstop global touring in support of her band’s two albums, a weary Powell found herself in a state of flux earlier this week — without a permanent place to call home — just days away from recording the follow up to Save Ferris’ 1997 major label debut, “This Means Everything.”

A confection of new wave and lounge, the Epic-released “Everything” rattled off several alternative radio hits — the up-tempo “The World is New,” the self-explanatory “Spam,” and “Goodbye,” a manic-depressive ska romp articulating the ultimate kiss-off from a jilted ex-lover.

Anticipating her pending studio reunion with the other six members of Save Ferris, a restless Powell spent Memorial Day afternoon driving around in search of an Albertson’s. Back at the hotel, Powell feasted on dessert for dinner (angel food cake). But that’s out of choice, not necessity, for she’s past the days of living off low-rent foodstuffs such as…well, Spam.

Powell is no stranger to fending for herself in unlikely environments. After all, she just returned from touring the world in the company of her all-male band (“A 24-hour job,” she calls it). And she was also raised Jewish in Orange County.

“Garden Grove at the time was a pretty Waspy environment when I was growing up there,” the 23-year-old says, “And I was…very observant till the age of 12 or 14.

“My mom’s family, they’re all Moroccan Jews, and they all live in Los Angeles, so every holiday I was surrounded by a large quantity of family…love and tradition.”

Powell still maintains “great pride” for her culture: “I was lighting the Shabbat candles every Friday when I had a place to live, but now I’m hotel bound.”

When Save Ferris decided to cover the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” for DJs Kevin and Bean’s charity compilation, Powell converted the KROQ Christmas staple to Judaism, rewriting the lyrics as Chanukah-centric. While her Fairfax district residency at the time had some influence on her Jewish take on the brassy Yuletide number, Powell says with a laugh, “I couldn’t write about Christmas, because I never had one.”

With influences ranging from 1980s pop to Aretha and Ella, Powell is content with her band’s current low-key fame: “We’re not rock stars yet…everything that happened went exactly the way we wanted it to…. It’s the perfect place to be before releasing your second major label release.” Save Ferris even had enough confidence to record a high-profile cover — Dexy Midnight Runners’ 1983 chart-topper “Come On Eileen” — which might have ushered doom for any other young band.

Slated for later this year, the next album, Powell promises, will be “more mature, more complex.” In the meantime, she is looking forward to playing this weekend’s Valley Jewish Festival, where she’ll break in new songs off the upcoming disc.

As for any do-or-die expectations riding on its follow-up, Save Ferris won’t concern itself with anything beyond cutting a good record.

Even if the album bombs, Powell says that she and her band have what it takes to pick themselves up and move forward. Or, to say it another way, this is a case where it doesn’t mean everything.

Save Ferris will perform at the Valley Jewish Festival at CSUN, Sunday, June 6, at 3:00 p.m. For more information, see the cover story.


The Los Angeles County Museum of Art’smonth-long salute to Charles Chaplin concludes Saturday, Jan. 31,with a screening of his most serious film, also arguably his best.

“Limelight” stars Chaplin as an actor on the skids who takes inhis neighbor, a suicidal ballerina (Claire Bloom). He falls for herwhile she recuperates in his care, but while she overcomes herdepression, he falls back into alcoholism after a series of careerdisappointments. Bloom convinces him to


Elizabeth Rodgers, co-director of the documentary, “Exodus 1947.”

In July 1947, a Chesapeake Bay steamer loaded with 4,500 Holocaust survivors was attacked by the British navy on its way to Palestine. The ship was called Exodus 1947, and its aborted voyage galvanized world opinion in support of the struggle to create a Jewish state.

With their well-researched one-hour documentary, “Exodus 1947,” co-directors Elizabeth Rodgers and Robby Henson have created a compelling chronicle of the dramatic events that surrounded that ill-fated journey. The film — narrated by Morley Safer — combines the recollections of the ship’s crew members and passengers with newsreel footage and other archival material of the period.

We know, of course, how the story ends. Three Jewish refugees were killed and 140 wounded when British warships harshly turned the Exodus away from Palestine, shipping its passengers back to displaced-persons camps in Germany. Many historians argue that the groundswell of sympathy and outrage engendered by that voyage was one factor in the United Nations vote that launched the State of Israel.

“Exodus 1947” makes its screening debut at the Laemmle Sunset 5 Theatres on Saturday, June 28. Funding for the film print was made possible by the Righteous Persons Foundation. Following its run at Laemmle, the film makes its TV debut on KCET, July 6, at 10 p.m.

For Laemmle show times, call (213) 848-3500. For additional information about the film, call (310) 203-1444. n


Israel Through an Artist’s Eyes

By Diane Arieff Zaga,

Arts Editor

If you didn’t know that David Rose was one of our priceless assets, proceed to his pen and ink drawings on exhibit at the University of Judaism’s Platt Gallery. A look at this lively body of work suggests that virtually everywhere 20th-century Jewish history was being made, David Rose was there.

Very different in tone, style and intent is the work of 19th-century photographer Félix Bonfils. The Stephen Cohen Gallery presents his fascinating photographs of 19th-century Palestine. Like other commercial photographers working in the Near East during the late 1800s, Bonfils pictures are an outsider’s ethnographic exploration of an exotic culture — its working people, social life, native customs and dress. These views are infused with a recognition of their relation to stories told in the Bible. Bonfils’ small albumen prints, which feature Biblical places and references with an almost abstract quality, convey a strong sense of mystery and timelessness. Solitary figures appear against vast desert landscapes or sitting motionless near the water’s edge. The results are astonishingly beautiful. Both exhibitions open this weekend.

Above, left, David Rose’s illustration of the children’s area of a kibbutz bomb shelter near the Golan Heights, 1972. Below, Félix Bonfils’ “The Dead Sea,” c.1880.In his role as artist-reporter, Rose began early. “When I finished art school,” he told The Journal, “I went to Palestine. This was during the 1930s and I was very interested in the Zionist movement. I tramped around the country with a knapsack on my back. I knew some Hebrew and some Yiddish, and I just went from kibbutz to kibbutz. It was one of the most interesting experiences of my life.” Rose’s work from that time — which depicted the campfire cameraderie, irrigation efforts and other aspects of pioneer life — was widely exhibited. Some of it is on permanent display at the Israel Museum.

The artist’s Platt show, entitled “Celebrating 100 Years of Zionism,” is being sponsored, appropriately enough, by the Consulate General of Israel, but the subject matter in this body of work extends far beyond the life and times of pre-State chalutzim (pioneers). In the decades that followed, Rose continued to document life in modern Israel while on assignment for the Histadrut, the Anti-Defamation League, Jewish National Fund and other organizations. Equally important are Rose’s drawings of Jewish life worldwide: Polish Jewish refugees in Denmark, fleeing German Jews who were turned back at the Swiss frontier and drawings that depicted Nazi concentration camps.

In his six decades as a professional artist, Rose worked for everyone from Israel Bonds to Walt Disney. “The reason my career is strange,” he said, “is that I had to straddle two different directions — commercial art to support my family and fine art to pursue my career.” Disney Studios beckoned Rose shortly after his wanderings through 1930s Palestine, prompting him to move to California. During his four years there he worked on such legendary animated features as “Fantasia,” “Snow White” and “Pinocchio.” During World War II, Rose was assigned to a unit under film director Frank Capra that made films for the U.S. War Department.

After the war, Rose enjoyed a successful commercial art career in film and TV advertising as an illustrator and art director, but he continued to cover dramatic moments in contemporary Jewish history as they unfolded. On assignment to furnish courtroom drawings for Reuters, CNBC and NBC, he attended the trial of the infamous French war criminal Klaus Barbie. “Most of my parents’ family in Poland perished during the Holocaust,” Rose said, “so as these broken people, the survivor witnesses, each took the stand and gave their accounts, there were times I was listening to their testimonies that it so affected me my eyes clouded with tears. I had to stop drawing and wait until I could collect myself. That was the most moving moment I ever had during that kind of work.”

“Félix Bonfils – Views of Palestine c. 1880″ runs from May 30 – July 5 at the Stephen Cohen Gallery, 7358 Beverly Blvd., LA. (213) 937-5525. The David Rose exhibition at UJ’s Platt Gallery runs from June 1-15 with an opening reception on June 5. 15600 Mulholland Dr. in Bel Air. (310) 476-9777, ext. 203.