Painting the chagim
Camille Fox has created beautiful paintings – which are so detailed they could be photographs – of a family around a Rosh Hashanah table overlooking Sydney Harbour, lighting a chanukiah with Bondi Beach as a background, a bar mitzvah featuring a traditional Sephardi Sefer Torah, and more.
For many Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews, their voices can seem lost in the context of Judaism. Most non-Jewish people understand the religion through the lens of the Ashkenazi experience. But the ‘minority within a minority’ has a voice too. And it’s something artist Camille Fox has always been passionate about.
Fox was born in Egypt, but her family was forced to flee, immigrating to Israel and then settling in Australia just as Fox entered her teenage years.
While Fox wanted to be an artist, when she graduated from art school, she entered the world of advertising, as it was “the thing to do at the time”, explaining that without computers, everything had to be done by hand.
“I slogged away for years doing commercial art, which was excellent training,” she told The AJN. “At the back of my mind, I always wanted to paint but I had to work. I am very thankful about having done that because it really disciplined me and trained me.”
About 25 years ago, Fox was given the opportunity to paint full-time. “I’ve never worked as hard,” she laughed. “But you know, it doesn’t feel like work.”
Fox has exhibited in New York, Italy and Jerusalem, and was part of the Sydney Jewish Museum’s Jews from Islamic Lands exhibition.
Following the exhibition, head curator Roslyn Sugarman approached Fox again, this time to produce specific commissions for the museum, featuring the chagim and Jewish life-cycle events.
“Her vibrant and colourful paintings and her ability to tell stories through the lens of happy memories of a bygone era, really appealed to our museum audiences,” Sugarman explained, saying they were so enchanted by her work that they wanted more. “We trusted her creativity to respond to our commission, bringing her unique sensibilities and illustration skills to give us a glimpse into contemporary Jewish life in a specifically Sydney setting.”
Fox explained that it was always something she wanted to do for herself, so when the opportunity came around, she jumped at the chance to paint.
Her inspiration, she said, comes from her past and her family.
“I read a lot of books, I’ve got stories,” she mused. “My mother’s still alive, she’s 95, she filled me in on so many things, and also my family in Egypt.”
While Fox says she looks back at records to help her formulate the images, she does, of course, use her artistic licence when it comes to the glamour.
Fox has created beautiful paintings – which are so detailed they could be photographs – of a family around a Rosh Hashanah table overlooking Sydney Harbour, lighting a chanukiah with Bondi Beach as a background, a bar mitzvah featuring a traditional Sephardi Sefer Torah, and more.
While Fox admits she struggled at first to paint brightly coloured pictures for a place that commemorates such a dark time in Jewish history, she ultimately realised that her paintings are a sign that the community is thriving.
“My work is colourful … I like my art to portray joy and optimism. I like it to look hopeful and happy. So, I thought, How am I going to approach this? Is it going to be disrespectful?” she explained. “And then I was watching a documentary about Simon Wiesenthal. And at the end, he was celebrating his 90th birthday in a big hotel in Vienna, which happened to be Hitler’s favourite hotel. And somebody said, how can you celebrate your birthday in such a place? And he said, ‘Yes, I can, because the Nazis are gone, and we’re still here dancing and singing.’”
Which is exactly what Fox’s paintings portray.
To stay up to date about the exhibition, please visit sydneyjewishmuseum.com.au