Rebecca Wallersteiner talks to artist Bettina Caro about a new exhibition of work that touches on her Sephardi roots.
Memories of her childhood in Morocco have inspired Bettina Caro’s recent exquisite paintings which are exhibited at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, in Golders Green. As a child Caro accompanied her father, a keen amateur painter, on weekly walks through Tangier’s colourful, bustling souks, to the synagogue on Shabbat. You can feel the Moroccan sunshine in her pictures and smell the aroma of exotic spices and herbs.
“Both my parents were artists, but it was from my father that I learnt most, from the use of linseed oil to produce a blurring effect in my paintings, to artistic style,” she says.
Her new exhibition ‘Sephardi Celebration’ captures her family’s life and customs in shimmering colour and sensuous texture. Born in 1955, Bettina is directly descended from the Sephardic Jews who fled Renaissance Spain for Morocco and Rabbi Yosef Caro (1488-1575), author of the great codification of Jewish law, the Shulchan Aruch. Her work is inspired by Sephardi Jewish customs and rituals including her family’s Shabbat tea ceremony and wedding ceremonies. The exhibition features paintings of Moroccan Jewish brides wearing their traditional k’bira dress, either preparing for the wedding ceremony or taking part in the ‘Traje de Berberisca’ or henna ceremony held beforehand.
“I was lucky enough to wear a 350-year old wedding dress brought to me by my cousin from Madrid. It had been passed down our family for generations and I was delighted when my daughters continued this tradition and their own henna ceremonies,” says Caro, who moved to London in 1981 and now lives in Stanmore.
She has depicted the “deeply symbolic” motifs embroidering the wedding gown, including 12 gold stripes representing the 12 tribes of Israel and an image of the Tree of Life on the corset. Caro continues in a long tradition of artists who have painted brides, including Rembrandt and Delacroix and Chagall who depicted languidly floating Jewish brides.
Bursting with joie de vivre her colourful paintings bring to mind the intense blues and greens of Matisse’s Mediterranean paintings, which she admires. Other paintings in the exhibition capture the vibrant atmosphere of the souks and the exquisite interior of the Ibn Danan synagogue in Fez.
Three paintings depict the North African tea ceremony where mint tea is served to guests. Caro has painted her own beloved tea service, including a silver teapot, inherited from her mother and which she carefully brought to England. Her fortunate guests sip tea from delicately coloured glass cups decorated with gold leaf.
A series of still life paintings depict precious items of Judaica and jewellery which have been in her family for generations.
• The Sephardi Celebration exhibition is displayed at the London Jewish Cultural Centre, Ivy House, North End Road, NW11 7SX until 18 December.
For more details, visit www.ljcc.org.uk A number of events will run alongside the exhibition including Sephardi Voices; The North African experience; films and panel discussion with Bettina Caro, Jacques Onona & Rabbi Israel Elia.