Born in Argentina, Silvia Levenson is of Russian–Jewish decent. Politically active already as a teenager, Levenson immigrated to Italy in 1981 with her husband and young children to escape the oppressive regime of military dictator Jorge Rafaél Videla (ruled 1976–1981), during which members of her family “disappeared.”Her experiences during this intense and frightening time continue to inform her work.
Strange Little Girl, one of a series of sculptures in glass and mixed media, addresses issues of personal identity during childhood. Levenson notes, “My current work is related to the mysterious world of childhood. …the world of children is still far from adults until they accept their social rules: what is good and what is evil. Those years to me delineate an era where the edge between reality and dreams is very evanescent. For this series of works, I started making collages with pictures from my own childhood and masks of animals. I mixed animals’ heads and children’s bodies, emphasizing the dreamlike and unreal world of children.”
Two Immigrant Girls
The 18th-century painting and the 21st century sculpture juxtapose here both address issues of identity, while representing children of immigrants at play. John Singleton Copley’s portrays an Anglo-American child in an idealized Colonial American upper-class setting; a painting intended to demonstrate the family’s success in the New World. The elegant little girl not only represents a new generation of prosperous Americans, she also alludes to a life of personal freedom as symbolized by the inclusion of the of the freely perched bird.
Levenson, on the other hand, takes a more nuanced and biographical viewpoint. The sculpture reflects her own experiences as a child—her grandparents, like most Argentineans (and American colonists) came from Europe. As they immigrated to Argentina looking for a better life, their children and grandchildren emigrated from Argentina to Europe during the country’s dictatorship in the 1970s in a circular journey. The plight and coping skills of immigrant children, forced to adapt to new and changing environments, is of particular concern to contemporary artist on the current geo-political realities.