web analytics
July 3, 2015 / 16 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Home » Sections » Arts »

We Are Patriarchs: Paintings by Elke Reva Sudin


Sunday Morning in the Tent of Abraham  (36 x 24), Oil on canvas by Elke Reva Sudin,
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Sunday Morning in the Tent of Abraham (36 x 24), Oil on canvas by Elke Reva Sudin, Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Hadas Gallery (hadasgallery.com)
541 Myrtle Avenue, Brooklyn, New York
info@hadasgallery.com – 215 -704-2205
Until February 24. 2013

One way to understand the Biblical is through contemporary eyes, literally. And so artist Elke Reva Sudin has recast biblical figures through contemporary portraits. The juxtaposition is revealing. This extraordinary suite of 11 oil paintings, all created within the last year and a half, marks a courageous departure for this young artist as well as an exciting challenge to fellow contemporary Jewish artists to fully engage the biblical in contemporary terms. The works will be seen at the Hadas Gallery on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn until February 24.

Shabbat Afternoon in Leah’s Tent (36 x 60), Oil on canvas by Elke Reva Sudin.Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Shabbat Afternoon in Leah’s Tent (36 x 60), Oil on canvas by Elke Reva Sudin.
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Shabbat Afternoon in Leah’s Tent is a lush depiction of a familial universe. The figures, representing Jacob with his first-born Reuven seated on the chairs and Leah, Simon and Levi (I’ll explain shortly), by the couch, are all arranged in the upper half of the image. The bottom is dominated by a busily patterned Persian carpet that combines with the overall fisheye view offering a dizzying impression of their living room. Their lives are rich with complex and interconnected meanings even as the little caged bird makes us pause and consider its symbolism.

In all these paintings the relationship between the biblical title and contemporary Brooklyn portrait is crucial. Here the artist exercises the right to change the gender of the characters in order to insist that the Biblical characters and personality traits are not necessarily gender bound. Others might take another interpretive approach and see this scene as Jacob and Leah with one son and two of the twin daughters born to each of Jacob’s wives (except Joseph), as described in Chapter 36 of Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer. In this way the image implies many more siblings beyond the literal pictorial frame. Whichever the explanation, the family depicted is genuine, pious and thoroughly convincing as a modern biblical vision.

Gender migration is not unusual to Judaism. We normally refer to God in the masculine and yet do not hesitate to refer to His Divine Presence as the female Shechinah. So too Sudin interprets the Song of Songs by depicting the great composition in the guise of a woman sitting with an oud pondering the next song she will compose. The sensitive portrait is of Basya Schechter, leader of the contemporary Jewish band, Pharaoh’s Daughter; here ostensibly depicted as the King Solomon himself.

Joseph in Exile (Joseph and Osnat) (36 x 24), Oil on wood panel by Elke Reva Sudin.Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Joseph in Exile (Joseph and Osnat) (36 x 24), Oil on wood panel by Elke Reva Sudin.
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Changing context is of course a fundamental technique to invigorate all too familiar narratives. Here, Joseph in Exile (Joseph and Osnat) forces us to re-understand the puzzling biblical narrative. Joseph is given Osnat, the daughter of Potiphera, ostensibly an Egyptian woman as a wife (Genesis 41:45). An Egyptian woman as a wife! The Midrash explains that she is actually the daughter of Dinah, sent away after the terrible violation of Jacob’s daughter. She has been adopted by Potiphera, the same former master of Joseph. Her pivotal role cannot be overemphasized in that she is the Jewish female presence re-introduced to Joseph’s highly assimilated life. In this painting she is depicted holding a siddur, in effect reminding Joseph of his Jewish roots. The contemporary portrait of this black Jewish couple reverberate back into the biblical narrative; Joseph as a man of power and yet an outsider is vindicated by the confidence of his and his wife’s role in Jewish history.

Rudin’s series considers the role of the individual equally with the familial and so her depiction of Rivka at the Well reverberates historically as well as personally. This is a painting consumed by potentiality. Rivka at the Well depicts a contemporary woman sitting at a New York City bar, “Nahor Lounge” waiting for her bashert to arrive. Notice she is adorned with an explosive bracelet and the echoed pattern above her heart connotes her eagerness. Her wristwatch tells us that time is a wasting while the image of a camel (slyly from the packaging of Camel Cigarettes) fleshes out the narrative soon to unfold. But this image is about what is about to happen and how we may prepare for it. It suggests that we should go to the place where possibility exists. This image is a totally unique understanding of the matriarch Rivkah and what she may teach us today.

Rivka at the Well (36 x 24), Oil on canvas by Elke Reva Sudin.Courtesy Hadas Gallery

Rivka at the Well (36 x 24), Oil on canvas by Elke Reva Sudin.
Courtesy Hadas Gallery

While most of these paintings are clearly non-narrative since they originated as portraits of contemporary Jews, nonetheless there is almost always an implied narrative lurking beneath the surface. Sunday Morning in the Tent of Abraham presents yet another domestic scene crying out to be interpreted (i.e. narrated). Abraham is depicted here concentrating on his prayers while simultaneously keeping an eye on his young son Isaac. The three registers that divide the painting horizontally reflect three very different realms. The lower section seems to reveal a foundation of abstract order, while in the middle section human life as it tries to reach out to God. Finally the Divine realm is echoed in the calm beautiful sky. But still there is mystery as Abraham’s head intrudes upon the upper register, just as the child’s leg encroaches on the otherwise symmetrical rug. In the quiet stillness of this scene we are led to think of Abraham, alone in his belief in one God, patiently exploring how to reach out to Him, even as he must be a good parent to his helpless child. And significantly Isaac looks out from the painting, perhaps at us, imploring us to imagine his future. From a contemporary portrait of Jewish father and his child the artist has transported us back to the interior mental landscape of our forefather.

Elke Reva Sudin describes herself as a cross-cultural painter and illustrator whose work explores “the tension between the traditional and the contemporary coexisting in a shared space.” Educated at Pratt Institute she continues to curate exhibitions of other artist’s works as well as founding and running the media outlet Jewish Art Now that aims to “redefine 21st century art for the Jewish community.” While the paintings in this current exhibition certainly successfully reflect these goals, I believe they also open up another fruitful artistic field. It is extremely significant that the depiction of biblical matriarchs and patriarchs is being done by an observant Jew. Many frum artists shy away from pictorial representations of the Avos and Imos, presumably because these individuals are thought of as too “holy” to come under artistic scrutiny. That is, I believe, a mistaken approach. Just as they are closely examined by all of our traditional commentators so as to learn from lives and roles for the Jewish people, so too visual depiction and commentary can be easily as fruitful. Sudin has successfully scaled that conceptual wall to excellent results.

About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at rmcbee@nyc.rr.com


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

One Response to “We Are Patriarchs: Paintings by Elke Reva Sudin”

  1. Check out the work of Elke Reva Sudin, an LYA graduate, whose art was covered in the Jewish Press. LYA is very proud of your achievements.

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Palestinian Authority Arabs climb a section of Israel's separation barrier in the village of Al-Ram, as they try to avoid crossing Israeli-controlled checkpoints to reach the al-Aqsa mosque compound at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City to attend Friday prayers in the fasting month of Ramadan.
Arab Killed in Rock Attack on IDF Commander, IDF Soldier Hurt at Qalandiya
Latest Sections Stories
Rav S. R. Hirsch

Last month we outlined how a few years after Judah Touro’s death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory, and that opposition to this tribute came from a number of rabbis throughout the country who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven […]

Singer-Saul-Jay-logo-NEW

Marceau suggested a dark reason for his wordless art: “The people who came back from the [concentration] camps were never able to talk about it…. My name is Mangel. I am Jewish. Perhaps that, unconsciously, contributed towards my choice of silence.”

Anna Henriques, who hopes to one day head back to Jamaica, says, “Rabbi Raskin must be willing to respect what exists in Jamaica. The way to the future is to gently bring in the traditions of the past and at the same time embrace the idiosyncrasies of the Jamaican people.”

The Silver Platter has it all: gorgeous photography, oodles of useful tips and, more importantly, incredible recipes that you will find yourself making again and again.

It may be that seeking to connect with the past is rooted in the impermanence and impersonality of modern life.

It is very hard to build a healthy marriage when you do not have good role models.

My best book is one that hasn’t been published yet.

We tend to justify and idealize this division with pride attributing these tendencies as demonstrating a higher level of kedushah.

Everyone in the kehilla can get involved, she added, and mothers can network with each other.

On her first ever trip to Israel last week, popular radio talk-show personality and clinical psychologist Dr. Joy Browne, whose spirited broadcasts regularly attract millions of listeners across North America, paid a visit to OneFamily headquarters in Jerusalem in order to learn more about the physical and emotional challenges faced by victims of terror in […]

With the famous Touro Synagogue, a variety of mansions, each with its own distinct personality, as well as the beautiful coast, Rhode Island makes for an excellent vacation spot.

To avoid all this waste and unnecessary anxiety, let’s break the task down step by step and tackle each one at a time.

More Articles from Richard McBee
Jerusalem to Jericho Road: photograph by Chanan Getraide
“Chanan Getraide Photographs”: 2004 exhibition at Hebrew Union College Museum

“We are living in a Golden Age of Jewish Art, but don’t know it.”

McBee-062014-Outside

He refuses to flinch from our painful history, perhaps finding a kind of solace in the consistency of irrational enmity directed against us.

“Vidduy: The Musical” breaks through the formidable barrier of repetitive confession to allow us to begin to understand what is at the heart of this fundamental religious act.

A fascinating glimpse into the rich complexity of medieval Jewish life and its contemporary relevance had intriguingly emerged.

Silverstein’s work has long concerned itself with the intersection between the personal and Jewish Biblical narrative, significantly explored in this column in “Brighton Beach Bible” (July 27, 2009).

Not surprisingly the guardians of synagogue tradition is male dominated in both Moses Abraham, Cantor and Mohel and Synagogue Lamp Lighters.

Neither helpless victims nor able to escape the killer’s clutches, the leaders had to make impossible choices on a daily basis in a never-ending dance with the devil.

Bradford has opted to fully exploit the diverse possibilities of the physical surface by concentrating on the three-dimensional application of paint (impasto) and other material.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts/we-are-patriarchs-paintings-by-elke-reva-sudin/2013/02/15/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: