By Daniel Santacruz
Two artists. Two different periods. Two different styles. A common denominator: Their Sefardic roots.
The works of artists Moshe Castel and Moisés Bentata can be seen at an exhibit at the Centro Sefarad-Israel, in Madrid, titled “From Light to Secret” until March 9. It is the brainchild of Jacques Soussana, owner of Jacques Soussana Fine Arts Gallery, in Jerusalem, in order, partially, to promote Castel’s works in Spain. According to him, Castel os one of the most important Sefardic painters of the twentieth century.
“In a year or two a Jewish art museum will open in Madrid and I want them to consider including Castel in it,” he said in an interview at his gallery.
Born in Larache, Morocco, Soussana moved to Israel in 1966 at the age of 20 and studied cinematography and photography in Jerusalem, but decided to pursue art as a full-time career. In 1975 he opened his first gallery in Jerusalem and a second a few years later in Madrid. He currently represents 11 artists.
“I am one of the oldest art dealers in Jerusalem who is still active,” he said. The exhibit is sponsored by the Israeli Embassy in Spain, the Moshe Castel Museum of Art, in Maale Adumim, Israel, the Jewish Community of Madrid and the Council of the Sephardic Community of Jerusalem, in Jerusalem. Castel was born in Jerusalem in 1909 and died in Tel Aviv in 1991. As the artist’s last name indicates, his family originated possibly in Castile, Spain. His ancestors were among the expellees from that country in 1492, settling in Gaza initially, where they lived for 300 years.
They then moved to Hebron and later to Jerusalem. Castel attended the prestigious Bezalel Academy of Art, in Jerusalem, from 1922 to 1925, and in 1927 traveled to Paris to further his studies. In 1940 he went back to Israel, settling in Safed. His works can be found in museums in Jerusalem, New York, London, Rome and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Castel's father was a renowned artist and Orientalist who had a decisive influence on him. A resident of Madrid, Bentata was born in Ceuta, Morocco, in 1963 and studied Information Systems at the University of Tel Aviv and worked as an engineer at Telefónica, Spain’s largest telecommunications company for several years. Now retired, he paints full-time. His specialty are Hebrew letters carved in wood. According to his website, “his Sefardic roots provide many of his works with a mystical narrative. The wood becomes an essential
element, revealing a vocabulary of signs and shapes.” He has exhibited in several Spanish cities and won the “Art for Equality and Against Racism” award in Seville in 2011, and “Focus-Abengoa” award also in that city in 2012. His works are in private and public exhibits in Toledo, Ceuta, Madrid, Washington and Tel Aviv. Bentata will be at the exhibit every Wednesday offering guided visits. Following are excerpts from the interview with Soussana. Kolsefardim: Why the name “From Light to Secret?” Jacques Soussana: It was Bentata’s idea. He sees himself as the light. The secret is Castel as his family was expelled from Spain [when many observed Judaism in sevret]. KS: ¿How many works are exhibited?
JS: Forty from Bentata and 23 from Castel. The works are signed lithographs. The originals, especially Castel’s, are very expensive and not easy to obtain because they are in museums and private collections. Bentata’s paintings cost between $500 and $2.000 dollars. He is known in Spain and art galleries around the country are beginning to show his works. Castel’s lithographs were made in 1980 by the Paris-based company Mourlot, closed since 1990, which made the lithographs of well-known artists as Nahum Goodman, Chagall y Picasso. KS: Besides being Sefardic Jews, what else do Castel and Bentata have in common? JS: The letters. They both use the Hebrew alphabet to express themselves. Castel was influenced by Assyrianculture. Bentata uses the Hebrew letters in wood blocks.
© Daniel Santacruz