When the Iraqi Jewish Voices exhibit opens this month at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (Sept. 20-Oct. 22), its dramatic photography will be on display, bringing to life and into focus the people who represent this 2,000-year-old community. The photographer is Liam Sharp, and the unique style he brings to bear in the exhibit promises to surprise and move visitors.
Liam, an award-winning photographer who was born in England and raised in Canada, developed the artistic style and concept behind the Iraqi Jewish Voices Project together with Sephardi Voices’ Media Director, David Langer. It then evolved into a concept across Sephardi Voices’ communities, and to date, Liam has photographed hundreds of Jews who were born and raised in Islamic and Arab lands—from Morocco in the west to Iran in the east—and became refugees in the political upheaval of the mid-20th century.
The Iraqi Jewish Voices Project represents an effort to document—through interviews, photography, and film—the last Jews of Iraq. Many of its subjects appeared in the oral history collection Iraq’s Last Jews: Stories of Daily Life, Upheaval and Escape from Modern Babylon (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) by Tamar Morad, Dennis Shasha and Robert Shasha. Other individuals have come forward in recent years, eager to convey their personal narratives and to ensure their stories and their faces are not lost.
“I have always been very passionate about indigenous communities, and my first foray into this area was with the Native American communities of Canada,” says Liam, who has also photographed indigenous communities across Africa. “So when I first heard about this project, it immediately struck a chord. I am not Jewish nor Iraqi, but I like to think that that outsider’s view gives me a special perspective, and I feel like I’ve encountered a precious gem of history. The story of the Sephardi Jews is a story about a people uprooted from their homes, from where their ancestors lived for hundreds, or thousands, of years. It’s story of refugees, who carry in them nostalgia and sometimes painful memories, and all of that beauty is etched in their faces.”
Liam, who lives in New York, began photographing for Sephardi Voices three years ago and hasn’t stopped since, having traveled to London, Montreal, Toronto, and Miami. For Sephardi Voices, his photographic style is black-and-white, stark, and untouched. He doesn’t ask subjects to smile or pose but just to sit naturally, think about their lives in Iraq, and talk about their memories.
“I want to capture their humanity, and so the style is genuine, authentic,” says Liam.
His work will be exhibited at future upcoming Sephardi Voices exhibits planned for Toronto and Miami, of Jews from across North Africa and the Middle East, dramatically capturing the faces of Sephardi Jews in perpetuity so that their history can be told and retold for years to come.
Throughout his career, his work has been exhibited and recognized widely, in Europe and North America. For more information on Liam, see http://liamsharp.com/.