Mirta Kupferminc is an artist who has made her artistic mission a search for meaning in a world profoundly unstable, problematic and filled with the terrors of memory not entirely her own. As the child of Holocaust survivors, uprooted from Europe and transplanted in Argentina, one prevailing motif for her is that of a witness to the Holocaust one generation removed. A prominent text panel quotes Saul Sosnowski: ” to be a witness who loves unconditionally; daring to judge G-d over Auschwitz and find him guilty; and pray to him still, even there, even in Auschwitz.”
Under the watchful guidance of director Jean Bloch Rosensaft and the curatorial skill of Laura Kruger the Hebrew Union College Museum presents Wanderings: Works by Mirta Kupferminc delving into the artist’s exploration of the quest for Divine knowledge, the Holocaust, and the mysteries of memory.
From Borges and the Kabbalah we see the particularly intriguing Four Who Entered the Garden. Referencing the famous passage in Hagigah 14b; “Four men entered the Garden, namely, Ben Azzai and Ben Zoma, Aher, and R. Akiva .Ben Azzai cast a look and died Ben Zoma looked and became demented Aher (Elisha b. Abuyah) mutilated the shoots (became an apostate).” Even as countless commentaries have plumbed the hidden meanings of this passage, Kupferminc harnesses the visual metaphor of the ladder to sharpen our understanding. Four ladders are poised to access the fruits, literally, of a supernal paradise. And yet much is amiss; one ladder has fallen, Ben Azzai’s fate, the other ladders are ensnared and deeply compromised by madness and apostasy and a fifth ladder is glimpsed inside the garden itself indicating that even with spiritual insight there is more beyond. A sole figure is exiting, Rabbi Akiva who emerged unscathed, and yet we can see graphic echoes of his three companions behind him. In our quest for the Divine, successful or not, we are all fellow travelers.
Many of Kupferminc’s etchings are populated by hordes of little people trudging along the edges of clear-cut shapes, some amorphic, and some human, all mysterious. In Ghosts at the Lodz Ghetto the figures create an entire universe of Jewish life; children, workers, old men and young, madmen and holy men, all stamped with the compulsory Star of David badge, all memories of the countless victims of terror.
Mirta Kupferminc is a complex artist tackling some of the most vexing questions facing Jews today. The quest for the Divine, to draw close and attempt to achieve understanding is fraught with fear and trepidation. G-d is a burning fire and still a constant temptation. He is our obsession. And yet we cannot forget the Holocaust itself, how it has profoundly dislocated us in both our relationship with our G-d we incessantly seek and our essential uprootedness whether we are in the Diaspora or even in our precious Land of Israel. Staring into the abyss these are the subjects Kupferminc faces. She does not blink even as we must.
Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org