Etching proverbial wisdoms
Grabando una sabiduría proverbial

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Etching proverbial wisdoms

Story by Sherry Mazzocchi

“I was in some ways paying back my ancestors,” says artist Marc Shanker.

“I was in some ways paying back my ancestors,” says artist Marc Shanker.

Growing up in East New York, Marc Shanker’s family was a unification of two different Jewish lineages. His father, an Ashkenazi Jew from Poland, was a quiet, reclusive man who spoke Yiddish and English. He worked as a typesetter and was active in his union.

His mother was a Sephardic Jew who spoke English and Ladino, a Spanish language infused with Hebrew, Arabic and other tongues. Her ancestors were Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 and fled to Salonica. Her family moved to East New York in the early 20th century.

Where the temperament of Shanker’s father was cool, his mother’s instead ran hot—she was a passionate woman who loved to laugh, dance and sing.‎

His mother’s family all lived closed by. Shanker grew up in their midst, listening to their songs, stories, curses and flirtations. Along the way, he absorbed a lot of Sephardic proverbs, which are the subject of the latest exhibit at the Inwood Public Library, ‎”Traces of Sepharad (Huellas de Sefarad), Etchings of Judeo-Spanish Proverbs.‎”

The 45 black-and-white etchings on display illustrate sayings his family intoned as literal truths over the decades. Some are familiar to modern Americans: The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But “Kira kuervos i ti kitarán los ozos,” or “Raise crows and they will pick your eyes out,” may be new but the implications of rearing ungrateful children are instantly recognizable.

Kria kuervos i ti kitar ín los ozos. Raise crows and they will pick your eyes out.

Kria kuervos i ti kitar ín los ozos. Raise crows and they will pick your eyes out.

Shanker calls proverbs compressed lessons. They’re short, funny and often shocking so they are easily remembered.

“Once they are stuck in your head like bubblegum to the bottom of a shoe you start having all of these experiences and connecting them to proverbs,” he said.

The Sephardic side of his family looked at world through the lens of proverbs—especially since one saying could be applied to many different situations. “Proverbs are very subversive,” he said.

Long Sunday afternoons with his mother’s family etched proverbs into his soul. His mother’s family was very different from his father’s reserved family. “The Sephardic side was very demonstrative and exhibitionistic. They didn’t hold anything back. It was like a free-for-all,” he said.

Shanker even has a 1956 recording of a family get-together on his website where they speak in Ladino, and sing. “They weren’t shy,” he said. “They were a lot fun.”

His mother was especially vibrant. Her Spanish name was Luna, or moon. She was often call “Lunica,” or “little moon,” and sometimes even “Lunica la loca,” which translates into “crazy little moon.”

This 1900 photo depicts a Sephardi Jewish couple from Sarajevo in traditional clothing.

This 1900 photo depicts a Sephardi Jewish couple from Sarajevo in traditional clothing.

She was a dressmaker and neighbors would often come to the Shanker household to have clothes altered. Protective mothers would tell Luna to keep their daughters’ dresses long. But Luna would whisper to the grateful young girls, “I’ll make it shorter for you.”

Shanker is a self-taught artist. A long-time Inwood resident, this is his second Northern Manhattan show (the first was an illustrated history of Sacco and Vanzetti’s letters at Word Up).

For this project he taught himself etching and spent more than three years to complete the pieces. But even before that, he immersed himself Ladino art and literature. By combining some of the printing processes his father had worked in so many years ago and the language his mother spoke, Shanker felt that the results was a form of payback.

“I was in some ways paying back my ancestors, all of those generations who have long since disappeared. They had survived all of those expulsions and immigrations so I could be here.”

Grabando una sabiduría proverbial

Historia por Sherry Mazzocchi

La mansana no kaye lejos del arvole. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

La mansana no kaye lejos del arvole. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Creciendo en el este de Nueva York, la familia de Marc Shanker fue la unificación de dos linajes diferentes judíos. Su padre, un judío askenazi de Polonia, era un hombre tranquilo y solitario que hablaba yiddish e inglés. Trabajó como tipógrafo y era activo en su sindicato.

Su madre era una judía sefardí que hablaba inglés y ladino, una lengua española infundida con hebreo, árabe y otras lenguas. Sus antepasados fueron judíos expulsados de España en 1492 y huyeron a Salónica. Su familia se mudó al Este de Nueva York a principios del siglo XX. El temperamento del padre de Shanker era agradable, y en cambio de su madre era caliente, una mujer apasionada a la que le gustaba reír, bailar y cantar.

La familia de su madre vivía cerca. Shanker creció en medio de ellos, escuchando sus canciones, cuentos, maldiciones y coqueteos. A lo largo del camino, absorbió muchos proverbios sefardíes, que son el objeto de la última exposición en la Biblioteca Pública de Inwood, “Huellas de Sefarad, grabados de proverbios judeo-españoles”.

Los 45 grabados en blanco y negro en la exhibición ilustran los dichos que su familia entonó como verdades literales a largo de las décadas. Algunos son familiares para los estadounidenses modernos: la manzana no cae lejos del árbol. Pero “Kira kuervos i ti kitarán los ozos“, o “Cría cuervos y te sacarán los ojos”, pueden ser nuevos, pero las implicaciones de la crianza de hijos ingratos son reconocibles al instante.

Shanker llama a los proverbios lecciones comprimidas. Son cortos, divertidos y a menudo impactantes, por lo que son fáciles de recordar.

Donde ay amor ay dolor. Where there is love, there is pain.

Donde ay amor ay dolor. Where there is love, there is pain.

“Una vez que están atascados en tu cabeza como chicle a la suela de un zapato, empiezas a tener todas estas experiencias y las conectas a los proverbios”, dijo.

El lado de su familia sefardí miraba el mundo a través de la lente de los proverbios, sobre todo porque un dicho podría aplicarse a muchas situaciones diferentes. “Los proverbios son muy subversivo”, señaló.

Las largas tardes de domingo con la familia de su madre grabaron los proverbios en su alma. La familia de su madre era muy diferente a la familia reservada de su padre. “El lado sefardí era muy demostrativo y exhibicionista. Ellos no se contenían nada. Era como un país libre para todos”, dijo.

Shanker tiene una grabación de 1956 de una reunión familiar en su página web donde hablan en ladino, y cantan. “Ellos no eran tímidos”, dijo. “Eran muy divertidos”.

Su madre era especialmente vibrante. Su nombre en español era Luna. A menudo la  llamaban Lunica, y a veces hasta Lunica la loca.

Ella era modista y los vecinos iban a menudo a la casa Shanker para arreglas su ropa. Las madres protectoras pedían a Luna que mantuviera largos los vestidos de sus hijas, pero Luna les susurraba a las chicas jóvenes agradecidas: “lo haré corto”.

Shanker with friends Daphne Johnson (left) and Cecily Brock at an earlier exhibition.

Shanker con sus amigas Daphne Johnson (izq.) y Cecily Brock en una exposición previa.

Shanker es un artista autodidacta. Un largo tiempo residente de Inwood, esta es su segunda exposición en el Norte de Manhattan (la primera fue una historia ilustrada de cartas de Sacco y Vanzetti en Word Up). Para este proyecto se enseñó a sí mismo grabado y pasó más de tres años completando las piezas. Pero incluso antes de eso, se sumergió en el arte y la literatura ladina. Al combinar algunos de los procesos de impresión que su padre trabajó durante tantos años y el idioma que habló su madre, Shanker sintió que los resultados eran una forma de retribución.

“Estaba, en cierto modo, retribuyendo a mis antepasados, todas las generaciones que desaparecieron hace tanto. Sobrevivieron a todas esas expulsiones e inmigraciones para que yo pudiera estar aquí”.