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La Isla de Lagrimas – Ellis Island Exhibit at The Jewish Museum

La Isla de Lagrimas – Ellis Island Exhibit at The Jewish Museum

| On 17, Nov 2013

A new exhibit, Tears, at The Jewish Museum in New York City is inspired by the experiences of immigrants passing through Ellis Island – which was often referred to as the “Isle of Tears” – to enter the United States.

Tears, is a work by French artist Claire Fontaine consisting of nine neon signs suspended from the ceiling, each reading “Isle of Tears” in a different language.

The gateway to a new life, Ellis Island became a place where old identities were left behind in favor of a new American self. Claire Fontaine draws on French filmmakers Georges Perec and Robert Bober’s 1979 book and film Récits d’Ellis Island. Perec and Bober interviewed the last surviving immigrants and documented their experiences, finding that although people arrived from many different countries, their stories were similar.

The neon signs present translations of “Isle of Tears” in French, Polish, Russian, Yiddish, Greek, Italian, and German, in addition to Spanish and English. These were the languages most commonly spoken at the Ellis Island immigration station by the people who came to America through its doors-nearly sixteen million between 1892 and 1914.

The neon lights, in lambent blue and green hues, create a wavelike color field above the spectator. Located in the lobby-the liminal space between the outside world and the realm of art-they mark a point of transition for the visitor. With their multilingual voices they serve as surrogates for the millions of poor immigrants who landed at Ellis Island filled with hope and trepidation.

More information on the exhibit: and museum hours and admission:

(Image: Claire Fontaine, detail, Tears, 2013 Neon tubing and wire with frames, nine parts Courtesy of the artist.)

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