Jewish Art as an Israeli Periphery

Acciones Plásticas in Fringes – Jewish Art as an Israeli Periphery

שוליים – אמנות יהודית כפריפריה ישראלית
by David Sperber

The publication “Fringes – Jewish Art as an Israeli Periphery” is a continuation of a series of publications published under the auspices of the Leiber Center of Bar-Ilan University. The series focuses on research and documentation of contemporary Jewish art discourse in Israel. The series in general, and the current volume in particular, aim at sketching broad guidelines for topics pertinent to the field of Jewish art within the Israeli sphere.

The basic hypothesis of the current edition is that Judaism is conceived as a “subterranean” element of Israeli culture. The discussion considers the viability and elasticity of distinctions between the religious and the secular. This perspective favors a harmonic understanding, by which religiosity and secularism are not opposites, but rather intertwined inseparable concepts. Alongside the discussion concerning canonical artists, this publication relates mainly to peripheral tendencies and non-mainstream artistic groups, aiming to reveal their qualities as well as their limitations.


Fringes — Jewish Art as an Israeli Periphery

published by Leiber Center of Bar-Ilan University

 

el es frida kahlo at the gallery

el es frida kahlo is currently on view in the New Media Room at the Bruno David Gallery in St. Louis, MO.

el es frida kahlo

el es frida kahlo, 2007-present

Frida Kahlo played with the identity that she wanted to project and the identity that was placed on her by others. Kahlo used her clothing, political affiliations, sexual escapades, and personal traumas, to create a character that informed her body of work. She inscribed her identity, painting her image over and over, constructing a mythology around her persona.

In el es frida kahlo I confront the ambivalence I experience as a result of my simultaneous obsession with Frida Kahlo and weariness towards her commodification. Viewed from a tiny pinhole, dressed as Kahlo, I stand before a reproduction of one of her self portraits. With a mixture of rage, anxiety, and complete fear, I chant “el es Frida Kahlo, ella es Frida Kahlo, el es Frida Kahlo, yo soy, yo soy, yo soy Frida Kahlo,” he is Frida Kahlo, she is Frida Kahlo, I am, I am, I am Frida Kahlo. As I yell, the painting behind me begins to fall. I violently tear down my braids and smudge off my makeup while continuing to scream “I am Frida Kahlo, I am Frida Kahlo, yo soy Frida Kahlo!”

el es frida kahlo at the Bruno David Gallery (video filmed and edited by Felicia Chen)

el es frida kahlo YouTube video

FREE el es frida kahlo animated gif avaliable on MayaEscobar.com

link to translation of recent review by David Sperber in Ma’arav Israeli Arts and Culture Magazine:

Frida Kahlo at the synagogue: Maya Escobar and the young Jewish-American Creation

Berlin’s Eruv at the 2009 Conney Conference on Jewish Art

I will be presenting Berlin’s Eruv at the 2009 Conney Conference: Performing Histories, Inscribing Jewishness at University of Wisconsin Madison.

Berlin’s Eruv is a conceptual project that addresses the assumed non-presence of Jews in Germany. Berlin does not actually have an eruv. There is however, an active Jewish community, one that is frequently overshadowed by the city’s prominent monuments and memorials commemorating Jewish life (death). Berlin’s Eruv weaves together voices from Berlin’s Jewish community in an attempt to construct a metaphorical eruv representative of a living Jewish Community. Just as the eruv exists in the minds of the people who abide by it, Berlin’s Eruv manifests itself through the conversations surrounding the idea of the piece.

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I will be showing Berlin’s Eruv at 2009 MFA Thesis Exhibition, opening May 8th at the Kemper Art Museum.

Frida Kahlo at the synagogue: Maya Escobar

Frida Kahlo at the synagogue: Maya Escobar and the young Jewish-American Creation

by David Sperber in Ma’arav Israeli Arts and Culture Magazine.
translation by Shlomit Nehorai

ARTICLE IN SPANISH & HEBREW

Maya Escobar is no doubt one of the ‘hottest’ things developing in the Jewish-American art scene. Escobar defines herself “dyslexic internet artist”. And in order to view her work you need not wander far.

Her work is mostly created in familiar internet format, and is most often displayed on Youtube. Escobar, daughter to a Jewish mother and Guatemalan father, defines her art work as ongoing personal anthropological-sociological research into the narrative language that uses contemporary media.

The “Acciones Plasticas” work includes short films that present a series of convincing characters and monologues that deal with identity questions. In the first short film in the series she appears dressed up as the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo who became an icon within the feminist discourse. it is commonly argued that Kahlo had some Jewish roots. Escobar is dressed and made up as is famously attributed to Kahlo – the uni brow – while screaming “I am Frida Kahlo, you are Frida Kahlo, we are Frida Kahlo”. In agitation or in ecstasy she tears her custom, messes up her hair, wipes her make up off of her face and returns to being herself. In another short film in the series she carries on with a monologue of a jewish orthodox woman. The text here is so exact that for a minute the line between irony and slapstick to deep seriousness is blurred. In another short film the stereotypical Latin female as a sexual sensual object is presented, when here too the subject is moving between embracing the stereotypes and breaking them. Escobar is presenting different episodes that she had experienced herself and that deal with her hybrid identity as a woman, as a Jew and as a Latin American.

Another work of Escobar is  “my shtreimel” – a video-blog that is also presented on Youtube.
In that piece appears a young man in his twentieths who sits in his room in front of a computer and talk about his Shabbat rituals. The monologue describes an amorphous jewish world in which jewishness lives and materializes without obligation to its institutions and mostly in personal frameworks. A central part in this world is self deprecation: The young man shows his beloved shtreimel and mentions that the shtreimel which looks like the traditional  is actually a women’s hat purchased at a thrift store.

names

In the work “eruv”  (intermingling)  Escobar relates to the fact that in Berlin there is no eruv even though there exists a vibrant jewish community. In a series of photographed interviews with the city’s citizens she transforms the notion eruv – from a halachic-legal notion that creates a conversion of the public space into the private space, into a blending – the creation of a multiple of characters and worlds. The blending (eruv)transforms into a cultural concept that celebrates the different and the unique. The individuals create a splendid mosaic that assembles anew the “collective” as a social concept. The way Escobar deals with the subject is typical to the jewish-american art world that tends to transfer concepts from the practical halachic and transfer them to another world, and so they transform into a metaphor of the personal or social condition. The personal experience is significant to Escobar: ” Like other jewish rituals, the Shabbat encompasses practicalities that materialize private condition in a private space. Except that the understanding of the private space and the public space is fluid and changes at all times. I think that it is very important that people celebrate their Shabbat as a pleasant experience, defined and personal. The Shabbat rituals evolve all the time  – not as an unbending obligation that is transferred from generation to generation, but as a result of a simple choice of the individual to create to him/herself nice and pleasant Shabbat customs. We all have these kind of customs.”

The intercontinental use of the Internet gave birth to a generation of individuals who create for creation’s sake, and the concept of art for art’s sake gets that way a new meaning. The Internet media connects individuals and contributes to mutual influences between people who work separately in far away places. The young work on the Internet challenges the old definitions in relation to what is considered art and what isn’t. Similarly, it adopts new presentation forms that are not the norm in the art world’s mainstream, and breathes new air into the art field.

The discussion into Escobar’s work leads into a wider discussion about the differences between the Jewish thinking in the Israeli discourse into the new understanding of the American world view. The Jewish-artistic engagement in the United States is influenced by the introduction of new-age ideas into the center of the conversation, and is integrating into the effort to create a connection between contemporary culture and the traditional Jewish identity. Within the American-Jewish community there are signs of a move from an organized institutional Jewish expression into a unique and personal expression of the very personal experience. These artists reorganizing the traditions on their own terms, and in this way contributing not insignificantly to the definition of Jewish-American Non-Orthodox Modern-orthodox anew. The link between Jewish culture and Jewish identity to art occupies a central role in this conversation.

The echoes of this tendency can be seen in Israel as well ( in the young Yiddish culture developing in Tel Aviv, for instance ), but generally there is still a deep disconnect between the dominant concepts in Israel and in the United States. In Israel it is common to connect between Judaism to an organized tradition and to a blood line that is based on a genetic continuity. On the other hand, many young Jewish-Americans marry outside their religion, but nevertheless see themselves as an integral part of the Jewish world and expect to not be expelled from it. As opposed to Israelis who experience their Jewishness in terms of disintegration that followed restoration, the Jewish-Americans create new branches where growth and rebirth metaphors fit them better.

The joining of contemporary culture and art to Jewish creativity expresses itself in fashionable characteristics like tattoos, hip-hop music, Internet art and the like, and is often understood as the disconnect with the accepted binary dichotomy between holly and the common. That is why conservative bodies see these art forms as a dangerous provocation. These new cultural concepts interconnect during confrontational discussions with the old cultural concepts. Philologically speaking it can be said that borrowing symbols from one discipline to another interferes with the semiotic systems. In the Kabalistic vernacular it is said that the energy that is released during the friction that is created by the disintegration of the usual vessels – creates  “new light”.

Georgia Kotretsos

g-x4b.jpgAthens based artist, Georgia Kotretsos is the editor-in-chief of Boot Print, a contemporary art publication published by Boots Gallery. For the next two weeks Georgia will be the guest blogger on Art 21.

check her out….

excerpt from her first post

[I] condemn all forms of violence and vandalism and I have been firm on this since the very beginning. Yet in a cloud of ambiguity the media, a political party and many civilians justified the mayhem and fed its appetite. A state of simmering pandemonium stamped this holiday season and with no further delay, a bloody dialogue was set in motion in the early hours of January 5th, 2009. Thirty Kalashnikov shots were fired towards three policemen who were guarding the Ministry of Culture. The gunmen sealed the attack with a grenade. A 21 year-old policeman was wounded and still remains in critical condition.

Both shootings took place in Exarchia, in downtown Athens. When asked about January 5th, a middle-age female resident of the area said with confidence to a news reporter “I heard Kalashnikov shots been fired.” Who can distinguish the type of a gun by its shots in the middle of the night in Athens? The death of the student has sparked the worst riots for decades, which escalated to be a sociopolitical vendetta. Is this a society of an eye for an eye?

Why is this all happening? For way too many reasons that go too far back, but most importantly because the Greek gluttonous government in power since 2004 is digging a hole and inviting us all to jump in.  For the last 18 months, new scandals make weekly headlines, there isn’t even enough time to react in between – the lethal combination of a corrupted government and a lethargic Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, is what we’re left with at a time of severe economic stagnation, a chronic lack of meritocracy, an endless list of social injustices and continuous brutality towards protestors, which in this case were often teenagers, by the state.

How could I ever link this intro to the art postings I’ll upload from Athens for you in the following days? Maybe I can’t and maybe I shouldn’t and for that I have to say this now.

Art may echo this page of Greek contemporary history, but I’m not convinced it’s entirely necessary unless we’re willing to individually evaluate the role of art within the contemporary Greek society and further admit openly the kind of voice it has for each one of us, and then get on with our day.  There is life after art and if artists are willing to react, or make a stand, they are not obliged to call it art – an artist is also a citizen.  If anybody finds comfort in turning this into some careerist driven niche, I’ll personally stay away. An open dialogue that’s not addressed exclusively to the intellectual elite can be an initial answer to our racing thoughts[…]