Excerpts from my thesis: My Shtreimel

April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

My Shtreimel is a video blog that features my fiancée Loren, who is a reoccurring character in my work. Sitting in a dimly lit room, Loren shares a personal Sabbath ritual. Behind him is the large painting of the Rebbe that appears in  Obsessed with Frida Kahlo video. Although Loren is alone, he addresses the camera as if he were speaking directly with his eventual audience.

My Shtreimel, YouTube Video, 2006.

“I think it is very important for each of us to have an enjoyable Shabbos experience. And to be able to in some ways personally define what that Shabbos experience entails. There’s a lot of different minhags that I think a lot different people have that not every one has. And there are certain things that we develop not necessarily because they are passed down from our father, or our mother, or your mother’s father, just because it is something that makes your Shabbos experience a little bit more enjoyable a lot these personal minhags that we all have…”

Casually citing the Chofetz Hayim and the Talmud Yerushalmi, he acknowledges both his relationship to, and awareness of traditional Jewish texts; thereby, indirectly aligning himself with a more observant Jewish community. Using humor, he offsets the implied exclusivity of those ties, by adding that he is actually wearing a woman’s hat that was purchased at a thrift store.

eruv stl is “posted as a response” to My Shtreimel. eruv stl is intended to link Berlin’s Eruv to St. Louis. In this low quality thus “authentic video blog” Loren and I drive around the Washington University in St. Louis area, with a map in hand, trying to locate St. Louis’s eruv. In the background you can hear Guns and Roses famous song Welcome to the Jungle. Loren assumes a role similar to the one of Matisyahu, a halakically informed Jew, who does not the traditional model for the other and is thereby able to communicate with the secular world.

eruv stl, YouTube Video, 2009.

I ask Loren why he thinks the eruv extends as far as it does and if he thinks that there area lot of Orthodox Jewish families living in the area. Loren tell me that the eruv has extended this far because of the Hillel on campus, and that while there are not many Orthodox families living on the streets that we are driving, that the presence of the Hillel on campus is enough to create an eruv-worthy Jewish community.

Not only does it become clear that Loren familiar with Orthodox Jewish practices and the neighboring streets, but also he is still not sure exactly where the eruv is located. Meaning that even though the eruv is present, Loren is either a) so religious that he doesn’t abide by it, OR b) he doesn’t lead a Jewish life that would involve abiding by an eruv. As the conversation continues Loren continues to distance himself from vocabulary that you would expect to come from a more observant Jew, as he casually engages in humorous banter with me surrounding the eruv.

I ask him how it felt to finally “find” the eruv, he responds that he “feels pretty good” but he didn’t feel like “it was an actual wall” – which it isn’t, so this statement is made in jest. He continues, “its like finding Waldo, Waldo had curly hair and glasses, he might have been a frum Jew […] maybe it is a statement about jews begin such a small percentage of the population…


The Rebbe, Acrylic on Canvas, 2004.

more thesis excerpts coming soon…

Tzit Tzit: Fiber Art and Jewish Identity

December 24, 2009 § 1 Comment

I met Ben Schachter at the 2009 Conney Conference on Jewish Art: Performing Histories, Inscribing Jewishness, where coincidentally, we both presented Eruv themed works.

In addition to making humorous Jewish themed conceptual art, Ben is a curator and is the man behind Tzit Tzit: Fiber Art and Jewish Identity. I have a few pieces from Hiddur Mitzvah included in the show.

Tzit Tzit Fiber Art and Jewish Identity

A special exhibit assembled by guest curator Ben Schachter, “Tzit Tzit: Fiber Art and Jewish Identity,” will open with a reception at The Saint Vincent Gallery in the Robert S. Carey Student Center at Saint Vincent College from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, January 28. Admission is free and open to the public.

The exhibit will continue from Friday, January 29 through Sunday, February 21 during regular Gallery hours: 12 noon to 3 p.m. and 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 12 noon to 3 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. The Gallery is closed on Mondays.

Participating artists include Maya Escobar, Melanie Dankowicz, Carol Es, Leslie Golomb, Louise Silk and Shirah Apple.

Ms. Silk will present a lecture, “Quilting and Spirituality,” at 6 p.m. Monday, February 9 in room 100 of Prep Hall.

Mr. Schachter, associate professor of fine arts, will give a Gallery tour of the exhibition at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, February 9.

The exhibit was developed by Mr. Schachter. “I have been studying various aspects of Jewish art for the past three years and this exhibit is an outgrowth of that interest,” Mr. Schachter said. “The artists hail from Los Angeles, New York City, Kansas City, Illinois and Pittsburgh.”

“Fiber art refers to any use of a cloth such as stitching or weaving,” he explained. “The title, Tzit Tzit, refers to the fringe on a prayer shawl, or tallis, worn by many Jews during prayer. While using thread, cloth, pattern making, stitching and other craft materials, each artists’ process creates a language derived from craft techniques that reinterprets the Old Testament, the oral law as written in the Talmud and personal histories. In so doing, both craft theory and Jewish Art are reinvigorated. I learned of these artists through Jewish art conferences I have attended, through exhibitions and through national awards. I think our students and our friends in the region will really enjoy seeing their work.”

Ben Schachter is an artist whose work integrates conceptual art and Jewish law. He sees a connection between the rules artists have created to guide and limit their work and Jewish traditions. His work has been shown nationally and will be on exhibition at the Westmoreland Museum of Art in Greensburg concurrent with this exhibition. He holds an M.F.A. and M.S. degree from Pratt Institute and lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and two children.

Carol Es paints images that powerfully scream of a life of hard labor. As a child she worked endless hours in a sweatshop with her family. Ms. Es’ works are featured in numerous private and public collections, including the Getty Museum, Brooklyn Museum, UCLA Special Collections, the Jaffe Collection and Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. She is also a two-time recipient of the ARC Grant from the Durfee Foundation and was recently awarded the prestigious Pollock-Krasner Fellowship.

Maya Escobar’s work directly challenges gender roles and illustrates how Jewish tradition empowers women. Ms. Escobar received her master of fine arts degree from the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University in St. Louis, and her bachelor of fine arts degree from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has exhibited work in Spain, Guatemala, United States, Germany and Venezuela.

Melanie Dankowicz creates intricate papercut sculptures, marriage contracts, and wall art. An expansion of the medium, Dankowicz’s three-dimensional forms are ephemeral lace-like paper structures, of elegant tracery that has inspired her recent metalwork. She draws inspiration from the countryside of Illinois, where she resides with Harry and their three children.

Leslie Golomb exhibits her work nationally and internationally and is the recipient of numerous awards, including recognition from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Individual Artists Fellowship Award and a State of the Art Award from the State Museum of Pennsylvania. Her work was recently included in the Three Rivers Arts Festival and Best of Pittsburgh Invitational. Ms. Golomb holds a bachelor in fine arts from Carnegie-Mellon University and a master of fine arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She served as founder and director of the American Jewish Museum of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh for nine years. She has returned to the studio producing prints and artists books.

Louise Silk began her quest to acquire skills as a quilter after being inspired by an article in Ms. Magazine in 1971 about quilt making as a woman’s art form. Over the past 30 years, her work has been included in Quilt National Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary Quilts as well as many private corporate collections such as USAirways, Paine Webber and PNC Bank. She is a certified Integrated Kabbalistic Healer. She is currently living and working from her loft in the South Side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Ms. Golumb and Ms. Silk collaborate and join their printmaking and fiber art into multilayered quilts, runners and tallisim. The images and techniques bring together American folk traditions and Jewish history in surprising ways. Ultimately the perspective of these five artists reinvigorates what Jewish Art is and can become.

Shirah Apple received a master of fine arts degree from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 2006. She is a graduate of MICA’s post-baccalaureate certificate program and of Miami University, where she received a bachelor of science degree in business administration.

Further information about the exhibition is available by contacting the Gallery at 724 805-2107, www.stvincent.edu/gallery.

Berlin’s Eruv Talk

November 2, 2009 § 4 Comments

I will be presenting Berlin’s Eruv at KAM Isaiah Israel, as part of their World Jewry Program, this Sunday, November 8th. The lecture is open to the public.


video still from interview with Moshe Or

In 2008 I traveled to Berlin as part of exchange program with my University. Prior to this visit, I had never been to Germany- nor did I have any particular reservations about going or not going, but it seemed everyone else had their own opinion on the matter.

“Germany, how can you go there as a Jew?” “There are Jews in Germany? I thought they were all dead?” “You are so brave to go to Germany…”

Ultimately people’s projections as to my intentions for going to Germany became the filter through which I experienced Berlin.

While I was in Berlin I conducted interviews with members of the community concerning the highly visible presence of the monuments and memorials commemorating Jewish life (death) have impacted their individual and communal Jewish identities. Other topics included: the notion of German Jews vs Jews living in Germany and how this differs from an American Jewish identity, their status as diaspora Jews and their relationship to Israel, their thoughts on the European Union, anti-semitism and the widespread use of facebook as a mode of connection.

The title of the piece Berlin’s Eruv is a play on the fact that there is not actually an eruv in Berlin.  An eruv is a rabbinically sanctioned demarcation of space that transforms public space into private space for the purposes of the Sabbath, allowing Orthodox Jews to carry in public places, a practice which is otherwise prohibited. Modern eruvs are often made of wire strung between utility poles, a gesture towards a “walled courtyard,” indicating an enclosed, private space.

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. The interviews I conducted in Berlin relied on the presence of institutionalized markers of Jewish identity, to give weight to the idea non-presence of the living Jewish community.

Berlin’s Eruv Talk

11/8/09 @ 10:30 am
KAM Isaiah Israel
1100 E Hyde Park Blvd
Chicago, IL 60615-2810
773-924-1234

Berlin’s Eruv Video

May 2, 2009 § Leave a comment



click here to visit website

Artista disléxica del Internet

April 21, 2009 § 1 Comment

Por David Sperber en Ma’arav Israeli Arts and Culture Magazine
Traducción de Gonzalo Escobar (de Traducción de Shlomit Nehorai)

Maya Escobar es sin ninguna duda una de las personas más de moda en el desarrollo del arte judío-estadounidense. Escobar se define como “artista disléxica del Internet”. Y para ver su trabajo uno no necesita ir muy lejos.

Su trabajo es creado principalmente en el formato familiar del Internet, y se puede ver más frecuentemente en Youtube. Escobar es hija de madre Judía y de padre Guatemalteco, ella define su trabajo personal y versátil de arte como una investigación antropológica-sociológica dentro de la narrativa que utiliza medios electrónicos contemporáneos.

Acciones Plásticas incluye películas de corto metraje que presentan una serie de caracteres persuasivos y monólogos en los que se cuestiona la identidad. En la primera película de corto metraje de la serie aparece, vestida como la artista mexicana Frida Kahlo quien se convirtió en un ícono dentro del discurso feminista. Se argumenta comúnmente que Kahlo tenía algunas raíces judías. Escobar aparece vestida como Kahlo con sus famosas cejas mientras que grita “Yo soy Frida Kahlo.  Usted es Frida Kahlo.  Nosotros somos Frida Kahlo”. En agitación o en éxtasis se desgarra su ropa, se despeina, se quita el maquillaje y vuelve a ser ella misma.

el es frida kahlo

En la otra película de corto metraje de la serie, ella continúa con un monólogo de una mujer ortodoxa judía. El texto aquí es tan exacto que por un minuto la línea entre la ironía y la comedia burda y la seriedad profunda es borrosa.

En otra película de corto metraje se presenta  el estereotipo de mujer latina como objeto sensual sexual, cuando aquí el tema se desenvuelve también entre la aprobación y la destrucción de los estereotipos. Escobar presenta diversos episodios basados en la realidad que ella misma ha experimentado enfocados en su identidad híbrida como mujer, como judía y como latinoamericana.

Otro trabajo de Escobar es  My Shtreimel (Mi sombrero de peluche judío de Europa Oriental) – un vídeo-blog que también se puede encontrar en Youtube. En esta sección aparece un joven de más de veinte años que está sentado frente a una  computadora y habla de sus rituales del Shabbat (el día de descanso para los judíos). El monólogo describe un mundo judío amorfo en el cual la esencia judía viva y material no es obligatoria a sus instituciones, sobre todo en el marco personal. Una parte central en este mundo es la auto depreciación de uno mismo: El joven muestra su querido shtreimel y menciona que el shtreimel que se ve como el sombrero tradicional es realmente un sombrero de mujer comprado en una tienda de segunda.

berlin's eruv

En el trabajo “eruv”*  (entremezclarse)  Escobar relata el hecho que en Berlín no hay ningún eruv aun cuando allí existe una comunidad judía vibrante. En una serie de entrevistas fotografiadas con los habitantes de la ciudad ella transforma la noción del eruv – en una noción legal halajá (recopilación de las principales leyes judías) que crea una transformación del espacio público en el espacio privado, en una mezcla – la creación múltiple de caracteres y de mundos. El eruv se transforma en un concepto cultural que celebra lo diferente y lo único. Los individuos crean un mosaico espléndido que ensambla un grupo “colectivo” diferente como concepto social. La forma en que Escobar trata el tema es típico al mundo judío-estadounidense del arte que tiende a transferir los conceptos del halajá práctico y para transferirlo a otro mundo, y así se transforma en una metáfora de la condición personal o social. La experiencia personal es significativa a Escobar.  Como otros rituales judíos, el Shabbat abarca los sentidos prácticos que materializan la condición privada en un espacio privado. Excepto que el entendimiento del espacio privado y del espacio público es fluido y cambia siempre. Yo pienso que es muy importante de que la gente celebre su Shabbat como experiencia agradable, definida y personal. Los rituales del Shabbat evolucionan con el tiempo – no como obligación inamovible que se transfiere de generación en generación, pero como resultado de una opción simple del individuo de crear él/ella las mismas costumbres agradables de Shabbat. Todos tenemos esta clase de costumbres.”

El uso intercontinental del Internet dio a luz a una generación de individuos que crean algo solo por el hecho de crear algo, y el concepto del crear arte por el hecho del crear arte consigue de esa manera un nuevo significado. Los medios de comunicación del Internet conectan a individuos y contribuyen mutuamente a entrelazar a la gente que trabaja por separado en lugares lejanos. El trabajo nuevo del Internet desafía las viejas definiciones en lo referente a lo qué se considera arte y a lo que no es. De igual manera, adopta nuevas formas de la presentación que no son la norma en la corriente principal del mundo del arte, y le revigoriza al campo del arte.

La discusión del trabajo de Escobar conduce a una discusión más amplia sobre las diferencias entre el pensamiento judío en la conversación israelita en la nueva comprensión de la opinión estadounidense del mundo. El compromiso judío-artístico en los Estados Unidos está influenciado por la introducción de las ideas de la nueva era en el centro de la conversación, y está integrando en el esfuerzo de crear una conexión entre la cultura contemporánea y la identidad judía tradicional. Dentro de la comunidad estadounidense-judía hay muestras de un movimiento de una expresión judía institucional organizada en una expresión única y personal de  experiencias muy personales. Estos artistas que reorganizan las tradiciones en sus propios términos, y de esta manera contribuye no insignificantemente a la definición  Ortodoxo-Moderno No-Ortodoxo Judío-Estadounidense nuevamente. El acoplamiento entre la cultura judía y la identidad judía al arte ocupa un papel central en esta conversación.

Los ecos de esta tendencia se pueden encontrar también en Israel (por ejemplo, en la cultura joven de Yiddish {idioma hablado por los judíos de Europa Oriental}  en Tel Aviv), pero generalmente todavía hay una desconexión profunda entre los conceptos dominantes en Israel y en los Estados Unidos. En Israel es común la conexión  entre el judaísmo con una tradición organizada y con el linaje o la línea de sangre y la consanguinidad basada en una continuidad genética. Por otra parte, muchos judío-estadounidenses jóvenes se casan fuera de su religión, pero sin embargo ellos se ven como parte integral del mundo judío y saben que no serán expulsados por esto. En comparación con los israelíes que experimentan su identidad judía en términos de desintegración que siguió la restauración, los judío-estadounidenses crean  nuevas ramas donde las metáforas del crecimiento y del renacimiento se acoplan mejor.

La unión de la cultura y del arte contemporáneos a la creatividad judía se expresa en características de moda como tatuajes, música hip-hop, arte del Internet y otras formas similares, y se entiende a menudo como la desconexión con la dicotomía dualista aceptada entre lo sagrado y lo mundano. Esto es porqué los tradicionalistas consideran estas formas de arte como provocación peligrosa. La interconexión cultural de estos nuevos conceptos durante discusiones desafiantes con los viejos conceptos culturales. Filológicamente hablando se puede decir que pedir prestados símbolos a partir de una disciplina a otra interfiere con los sistemas semióticos. En el lenguaje Cabalístico (kabbalah o  cábala  es una de las principales corrientes de la mística judía) se dice que la energía creada durante la fricción  producida por la desintegración de las cosas va a crear generalmente “nueva luz”.

* De acuerdo a la religión judía durante el Shabbat lo judíos no pueden hacer ningún trabajo, ni tampoco llevar cosas fuera de sus casas o de las murallas de su ciudad. Cuando la ciudad o pueblo no tiene murallas, se tiene que construir un “eruv”, que es una construcción de cables y postes para así poder marcar los límites físicos del pueblo y esto se convierte en una estructura virtual imaginaria.

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

April 15, 2009 § Leave a comment

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.

*****

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

April 6, 2009 § 6 Comments

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”.

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