It was our first retreat with mangos and guavas for snacks, and our first retreat in Latin America. We had an experience full of jokes, dancing, and serious exploration about the ways that Jewish artists in local different regions understand their work and identity. We continued our tradition of holding Jewish artist retreats in formerly religious places; Mexico City’s Casa Xitla was previously a convent, and has now been converted into a retreat center focused on art, human rights and ecology.
Programming at the retreat included time for the artists to share their individual stories and art, learn about the unique history of Mexican-Jewish immigration, and explore empathetic listening and focusing on goals. We also brought Los vecinos del ritmo (Neighbors of the rhythm), a Mexico City-based art-band that has created a digital instrument that they play through their movements. They mixed 80s low-fi with contemporary irony, and we all had the opportunity to move and dance and create our own music.
One highlight of the retreat was a song-writing session led by Simja Dujov, open to artists of all disciplines. The session continued into creative time, and with the help of some of the musicians (and a bit of mezcal), the group pulled together a powerful and humorous song inspired by one of the house dogs entitled, “Perro Por Dentro.” With the contribution of Dani Scharf, an album cover was created [image here], and a project was born exploring “the dog inside.”
Other artists led sessions including an improvisational theater class facilitated by Mexican artist Helen Marcos of Teatro I, and she used techniques she created in her socially-engaged theater work to allow the multi-disciplinary artists to interact and explore. Brazilian cinematographer Edu Goldberg Rabin led a group on an exploration of light and the impact of seeing on our emotional engagement, using nature as a way to understand the world we see in movies and all around us.
The retreat ended with deep hugs and a group picture where we tried to emulate the immigrant portraits of our ancestors, recently arrived in the new world. Many of us are continuing to chew on many of the topics that feel particularly relevant to this group, including how to navigate some kind of shared identity within the region, and how a newer generation of creative Jews can create the communities they need within their countries. As one artist from Argentina summed it up, “We are somewhere between native and immigrant, even if we are born there, that is our identity.”