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JEW is a new exhibition at the Jewish Museum London by photographer John Offenbach exploring the nature of what it means to identify as Jewish today: from religious to secular, rich to homeless, criminal to lawful through 34 striking large-scale photographs. A major art book on the subject featuring the full set of 120 works will be launched during the exhibition's opening.

Both the exhibition and the publication bring together the diverse faces of Jewish people from myriad walks of life, dispelling the myth that there is just one type of Jew. For Offenbach, this has been a very personal project, traveling the world to capture the subjective essence of Jewish identity across 12 different countries, from Ethiopia to Ukraine, and Argentina to China.

Despite experiencing some initial resistance regarding the project's title, Offenbach was adamant that this body of work was to be given the name JEW. He says: “A large part of the project was to re-own that word - it shouldn’t be seen as an insult”. In November 1938, an exhibition entitled ‘The Eternal Jew’ opened in Munich promoting the Nazi stereotypes of Jews through photographs. In November 2019, Offenbach’s portraits challenge the contemporary, hateful propaganda of uncomfortably recent history, whilst contributing to a vital story of Jewish representation in the arts and posing urgent questions about identity and belonging that are pertinent to all of us.

Offenbach’s portraits are executed in black and white, a stylistic device known for its democracy. The removal of the background serves to avoid connotations of documentary. Offenbach explains: “I did travel to 12 countries, but my thinking was not necessarily to see it entirely as a diaspora project. I travelled with a neutral background and photographed each portrait against it, in black and white. The result is more objective, and at the same time more inclusive, in that each one, devoid of its surroundings becomes part of a single story”.