Meir Panim’s Tiberias Free Restaurant not only provides warm meals, but the opportunity to socialize as well.
The world is complicated. Surely it seems that Divine justice is elusive. God’s role is frequently masked and our human situation is terribly fragile. Yet according to artist Batya F. Kuncman our condition is “most promising.” Her optimistic artwork is designed to illuminate this shadowy nature of our existence and strives for clarity and ultimate closeness to God. In “Landscapes for Humanity,” currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, images of infants are the tools she uses to explicate her belief.
Initially more modest, Believer (2010) lures us into a child-like view of the universe. A little babe is standing chest-deep in what appears to be a river, transfixed by an orange butterfly fluttering just out of reach. The innocent child reaches up attempting to grasp at the elusive creature or perhaps to set it on its journey of freedom. And therein lies the tension and mystery of Jewish prayer. The artist maintains that we must see this image as an expression of Hannah’s seminal prayer (1 Samuel: 1:10). Indeed the methodology of “service of the heart” is her gift to us, captured in the image of a child grasping at the wonder of a fleeting creature. Our attempt to connect with the Divine is elusive and filled with wonder, just as this child grasps and yet does not connect. Prayer is mysterious.
Kuncman ups the ante in The Great Communicator, a startling image of a full figured infant on a sandy seashore. His hands are held together in concentration as he tilts his enormous head to glance at the viewer. Behind him is a rich green ocean as the presence of Divine authority that supports this powerful infant. This child, surely inarticulate and yet intrinsically filled with wisdom and strength, represents no less than King Solomon, the paragon of all human wisdom. And yet, this child carries his kingly burden without a care, filled with humility. In his dream Solomon responds to God’s offer of limitless bounty with modest insight; “I am but a little child therefore give your servant an understanding heart to judge your people, to distinguish between good and evil (1 Kings 3:7).” More than any of the other images, this brown-eyed child looks us right in the eyes, his penetrating gaze searching out our understanding and intentions. Will we respond to his needs as he grows and assure that he reaches his full potential? The answer and outcome is surely in our hands.
Her companion photograph, leAhava, reveals a similar meaning in a shockingly personal way. We see a close-up of one person’s left eye. The eye is open looking straight at the viewer, framed by its upper and lower lids. Irregular eyelashes punctuate the exposed eyeball. Only once you notice the Torah letters inscribed neatly across the light brown iris does the image become considerably more than a portrait of one eye. Indeed in making out the text one can only see a cropped view of three lines of the second paragraph of the Shema. While leAhava is legible as is most of naf’shehem only a bit of d’ganechha appears around the lower edge. Somehow this bizarre image concretizes the realization of how we indeed internalize the words of Torah and how deep within us our acceptance of mitzvos should and can be. Here the text operates as an engine of meaning, proclaiming that the commandment to love God (l’Ahava) must infuse our very souls (nafshehem) and to do so results in our sustenance (diganechha). The experience of realizing what the artist is getting at is electrifying. In one image she has restated the fundamental meaning of this essential Torah passage.
By insisting on linking the power of the visual image with complexities of sacred text, literally brought into the image, Kuncman has raised the dialogue between the observant community and the visual arts to a new level of sophistication. Once the text operates this way, as partner to the visual, it cannot be relegated to the role of ancillary reference. Similarly the visual cannot operate as mere illustration of sacrosanct holy writ. Both elements are forced to work together, commenting on and strengthening each other in a powerful visual/textual partnership. The new and exciting meanings that come out of this union are part of the inspired future of Jewish art.
About the Author: Richard McBee is a painter and writer on Jewish Art. Contact him at email@example.com
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Today is day six without a phone.
Besides for feeling slightly isolated, it’s not too bad.
I’ve been doing things that I know I would not be doing if my phone was sitting next to me, shiny screen beckoning.
Is anyone else alarmed by the way extended warranties are sold on just about anything and everything? It means one of two things – either someone has found a great way of getting consumers to part with more of their hard earned dollars or manufacturers have no faith in their own products. Neither of those options is particularly heartwarming.
As I described Gaon in a review in June 2001 (“In Search of Ancestors, Sculpture by Simon Gaon” at Yeshiva University Museum), his Bukharian Jewish roots are deeply embedded on both sides of his family, echoed in his early yeshiva education.
Let me begin by congratulating my dear machatunim, Soraya and Jay Nimaroff, on being the recipients of the Community Service Award at the Sderot Hesder Institutions 18th annual anniversary dinner.
Think of your issues this way: due to those different backgrounds, you have a “shovel” to deal with difficulties while he has a “spoon”.
Do you remember the good old days when kids were kids and there was never anything to worry about? Those days never really existed, but today there are issues kids worry about that weren’t issues for some adults. They include fear of bullying, natural disasters, divorce, and violence.
In Part I talked about celebrating 30 years of Regesh Family and Child Services providing services to children, teens and families. I shared the agency’s origin and the many lessons I have learned through this journey. As I mentioned, it is my hope that my experiences will add to your toolbox of life skills.
Unfortunately, a map of the Middle East with no mention of Israel is nothing new… It is surprising however, that the world’s largest publisher of children’s literature, Scholastic Books, has joined in this trend.
About six months ago my parents and I started discussing ideas for a mitzvah project in honor of my bat mitzvah. I wanted to do something unique that would be meaningful to me and also do something that my friends could participate in. Immediately I thought of an organization called Sharsheret.
“I’m disappointed that the agreement reached with Iran leaves our unfulfilled our ultimate objective: a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear program and related activities.
Southern NCSY will be holding a leadership training Shabbaton at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour December 6 and December 7. Rabbi Steven Weil, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, will be the special guest speaker.
Is there a beginning and an end to the universe? What role can medical breakthroughs play in conception or genetic engineering? Can science help us pinpoint the end of human life? Does the soul emanate from the brain or vice-versa?
Last month’s column sketched the myriad of social programs in which the Orthodox American communal worker and leader Adolphus S. Solomons (1826-1910) was involved. Adolphus married Rachel Seixas Phillips (1828-1881), a descendant of colonial patriot families and together they had eight daughters and a son.
The fact that the Jewish Museum’s curator Susan Tumarkin Goodman presents these issues as the inescapable core of her exhibition demonstrates the courage to challenge her audience with deeply discomforting images and concepts.
Lynda Caspe’s current exhibition at the Derfner Museum is an extraordinary event. In this show of 12 bronze relief sculptures and 14 cityscape paintings we have the opportunity to see the full scope of her last six years of work that, as least with the sculptures, marked a radical change in subject matter and technique.
The philosopher Theodor Adorno famously wrote in 1949, “cultural criticism finds itself with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarism. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric.” This statement posited that the Holocaust exposed the unredeemable rotten underbelly of Western culture and therefore the very notion of creating beauty and sensitivity was at an insurmountable impasse. Alas, as cultural history has shown, he was wrong. Strikingly, it might be said that one of the few ways still provocatively available to speak about the Holocaust is in fact through poetry.
“Hyman Bloom: Paintings and Drawings (1940 – 2005),” currently at White Box (the cutting edge international art space on Broome Street), is a rare opportunity to observe the creative process of one of the most important practitioners of 20th century Jewish Art in America.
The “book” is a mighty big place these days and the current exhibition at MOBIA, “As Subject and Object: Contemporary Book Artists Explore Sacred Hebrew Texts,” is no exception. Highly mobile ebooks compete with online publications and traditionally bound volumes, scrolls, accordion-style tomes and folios that present equally exciting options for contemporary artists to interact with image and text in one unifying medium.
At the Chassidic Art Institute one artist, Harry McCormick, has rather amazingly fathomed the authentic heartbeat of the individual Jewish life. This exhibition, running until July 25, shows a mere 16 paintings, but six of them reveal a deeply perceptive and sensitive chronicle of Yiddishkeit.
Judaica Auctions and the exhibition that precede them at Kestenbaum & Company are always a cornucopia of aesthetic delights. The sheer variety and overall quality of the ceremonial objects and works of art make the exhibition and catalogue a museum-like experience. The current exhibition is no exception.
Whether it is the disastrous report of the 12 spies or the furious condemnation that doomed an entire generation to die in the wilderness, the Torah narrative in Bamidbar turns terribly grim after the glorious inauguration of the Mishkan in the second year after leaving Egypt. With this in mind, just imagine my surprise at an encounter with two artists who address these (and other Biblical) themes right around the corner.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/landscapes-for-humanity-paintings-by-batya-f-kuncman-2/2010/11/03/
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