Few people outside of the Jewish faith have learned about the mikvah. In fact, there are even people within the community who don’t know much about this ancient ritual of purity. Canadian-American photographer Margalit Slovin is hoping to change that.
“Growing up, there were certain things that I knew about, but not necessarily in detail – the mikvah was one of them,” she said. “I realized that if, as a Jewish woman, I knew very little of this ritual, there were probably many more people outside the Jewish faith who also had little knowledge.”
The recent graduate of Ryerson’s bachelor of fine arts in photography, is teaming up with the university to showcase her first solo exhibit, Mikvah: A Tradition of Purity. The exhibit, which runs through April 26 at Ryerson’s I.M.A Gallery, was actually born out of Slovin’s final-year thesis.
“It was definitely an interesting project to present to people,” she said. “During critiques at university, I had to stress the modest nature of the subject matter.”
Considering the ritual’s intimate setting, Slovin admits she was pleasantly surprised that most of the subjects she approached were willing to participate in her project. “I think this was due in part to the fact that their identities are mostly hidden from the viewer,” she said. “The photographs focus on their hair coverings, rather than their faces. I did this not only to show the modest nature of the women and the mikvah, but also to show the diversity of the women who partake in this ritual.”
According to Slovin, she enjoyed the challenge of photographing her subjects without revealing their identities. “It actually wasn’t difficult to photograph in this manner, on the contrary, I took it as a personal challenge to redefine portraiture.”
The young photographer, who has interned at the Art Institute of Chicago, hopes her exhibit changes the way people view the mikvah. “When reading about the ritual, it often came across as archaic,” she said. “I found a need to produce a body of work that presented the mikvah in a new light, putting it in a modern context.”
She said, “within the exhibit, I have three sections of photographs: objects used for preparation; women with their head covered, and architectural interiors of the various spaces included in the mikvah building. Together, I have tried to explain the ritual as a process, rather than a singular person or space/room.”
Aside from her unique photographs, what’s impressive about Slovin’s exhibit is that she organized most of it from overseas. The Texas-native moved to Israel to attend a seminary in of 2013 – a week after she graduated from Ryerson. Within a month or so, she scored a full-time job at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
For one day each week, she worked as an image resource and copyright associate. “It was amazing to be able to go through archives and see images being used all around the world,” she said.
Slovin spent the rest of the week doing what she loves most: photographing. “This was great as I was able to use my skills as a photographer to capture other peoples’ artworks,” she said. “Some days I wouldn’t know what I was photographing ahead of time, so it was a great surprise to see a work by an artist that I greatly admired waiting in the studio for me.”
Slovin has returned to Toronto for her exhibit and is happy she’ll get to spend Passover with her family. However, she isn’t staying in Canada for long. “I received a scholarship to go to France at the beginning of May for a couple weeks, learning with photography curators and conservators in Paris,” she said. “I have never been to Europe and I’m very excited for this learning opportunity.”
Following her stint in Paris, Slovin hopes to go back to school and obtain a master’s degree. For now, though, she’s focusing on her new exhibit. “As an alumna, I am even more thrilled to be having it at Ryerson’s own Image Arts Student Gallery,” she says.
For more information about Mikvah: A Tradition of Purity, visit www.imagallery.ca or call 416-703-2235.