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January 22, 2017 / 24 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Words Within’

Jewish Women Artists Talk About Their Work (Part Four)

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

Abstract Alef-Bet, an Ancient Shroud to Awaken,

Transforming Anti-Semitism into Art,

And an Imagined Dialogue with Queen Esther


         For the past three weeks, this column has attended to the exhibit “Words Within” of works by members of the Jewish Women Artist’s Network at the Columbia/ Barnard Hillel (through March 28). In part four, four more artists discuss their work as Jewish women artists.


Searching for a Place at the Table


         “Am I a Jewish artist? A woman artist? A Jewish woman artist? Of course! All of the above,” says Rose Ann Chasman of Chicago, Ill., “as a Jewish male artist would respond similarly. As an artist, one works with all of one’s being − gender, faith (or doubt), ethnicity, family, health, age, hurricanes! I bring all my life experiences to the table, and Judaism is an essential component, whether I do Hebrew calligraphy or an apparently abstract piece.”


        Chasman’s paper cut with calligraphy, “Alef-Bet of Renewal” appears in “Words Within.” The piece, which could easily be confused with a richly detailed doily, contains every letter of the Alef-Bet, arranged in a manner that lends the letters the appearance of an abstract pattern. In her statement in the catalogue, Chasman writes, “For us as Jews, text study is a religious act. My art comes from a dialogue with the classic sources − an ongoing lively conversation with my Source, my Spur, my Toughest Client − a dialogue by turns moving, infuriating, challenging and inspiring.”



Alef-Bet of Renewal, by Rose Ann Chasman. Papercut and calligraphy, 2000.


         Over email, Chasman reflected upon the unique challenges as a woman artist, and particularly a Jewish woman artist. “Is one granted ‘a place at the table’ as a Jewish artist?” she asks. “May a Jewish artist draw on the wealth of powerful religious imagery of a complex millennia-old tradition, or is Jewish content automatically dismissed as limited, parochial, trivial − lumped together with sequined challah covers? Must we shut ourselves off from the power of our Jewish sources in the interest of some supposed ‘universality‘?


         Similarly, Chasman notes, many automatically dismiss women’s work as limited, parochial, and trivial, expecting “tender images of mothers and children,” or “powerful emotional images of childbirth.” Some even avoid emotion, fearing it would appear as feminine weakness. “May she work in textiles, such as quilt patterns,” Chasman asks questioning media available to the woman artist, “or must she use more ‘masculine’ media to show she’s a serious artist? Must she fits someone else’s categories, or may she simply follow her personal vision?”


         As if the quest for an audience were not already difficult enough, Chasman’s work requires a knowledgeable public, unlike a viewer at “Words Within,” whom she overheard asking in response to a painting, “Who’s Shechina?”


An Ancient Shroud to Awaken


         Donna L. Caron of Dayton, Maine, is the only artist from “Words Within” who responded to interview requests from The Jewish Press who is not Jewish. But she says she was drawn to the exhibit’s “spiritual premise” and created a piece with a broad sense of faith and spirituality. “Although my piece is not specific to Jewish art,” she says, “I believe that it can evoke a similar response in all peoples. I see the pieces in the exhibit unified by a common vision.”


         True to her expressed concern with “an ideology that speaks to the entire human race,” Caron’s “Awakening,” described as “concrete impressed with vegetation”, conveys a figure with a head and torso, sans hands or arms. Caron describes the sculpture as “though wrapped in an ancient shroud,” which is “composed of natural materials” and “reflects our inherent ties to creation.” The shroud also described “an awareness of this essential discovery. We awaken to a new life.”


Awakening, by Donna L. Caron. Concrete impressed with vegetation, 2006.


         Caron has not used the word tallit, but she has certainly picked up on the aspect of the tzitzit that used to be dyed with techelet (which some believe has been rediscovered). Explanations abound for why the blue-green color (this of course is subject to dispute as well, as some say azure) is used on the tzitzit, but some attribute it to the color of the sky. The assumption is that the individual who wears the tzitzit and the viewers who see it will be reminded of the sky and perhaps even look upwards towards the heavens. Like Caron’s ancient shroud, which evokes nature, the tzitzit are a constant reminder of G-d’s role in creation. Indeed, Caron’s statement continues, “Transformed by this awakening, we are able to move beyond the physical and into the spiritual.”


Transforming Anti-Semitism into Jewish Art


         When she was in her late 20’s and early 30’s, “deep in the process of growing my identity,” Deborah Silverstein of Cambridge, Mass., presented herself as a singer and songwriter who was a feminist, which was “central to my experiences in all aspects of my life.”


         But over time, “my integration of gender, religious, cultural and political identity has simply become who I am rather than, in a sense, what I ‘wear,'” she says. “My task, as an artist, is to keep my creative door open, receptive and uncensored.”


         She composed her artist’s book, Sister’s Keeper, for a Holocaust memorial service. The piece is an old copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which Silverstein cut and pasted with torn silk. She embedded the words “sister’s keeper” to focus on women’s voices. “Now the words of Sister’s Keeper sing out from the darkness of Mein Kampf, and the strips of red-black silk spill off the edges of the pages like fire or blood,” she writes in the catalogue.


Sister’s Keeper, by Deborah Silverstein. Artist book, fabric, 2003.


         Over email, she adds, “Because the song and piece is so acutely political, I am always aware of myself as a Jew, and therefore, that I am overtly exposing myself to latent or overt anti-Semitism. I feel the vulnerability of difference and apartness. Although I have never encountered any hostility in response to this piece, I am always a little uneasy, prepared, observing, waiting, on-the-alert.”


Queen Esther, Meet Scheherazade


         Lynne Avadenka of Huntington Woods, Mich., began working with Jewish subjects when she was finishing graduate school. She received ketubot commissions to earn money, initially thinking she was making her “real art” in graduate school. “I realized that merging my interest in Judaic themes with the art-making tools and sensibilities I learned in grad school, was a powerful combination,” she says.


         “The choices I make as an artist are certainly shaped by the fact that I am Jewish and a woman,” she adds.


By A Thread, by Lynne Avadenka. Artist’s book, 2006.


         Her accordion style artist’s book, By A Thread, is an “imagined conversation between two extraordinary women, Queen Esther, the heroine of Purim, and Scheherazade, the Muslim woman who told stories for ‘a thousand and one nights.'” Although the comparison initially seems peculiar, Avadenka explains in the catalogue, “both spoke up when they could have remained silent and saved countless lives.”


        Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. His painting, “The Windows of Heaven” will be on exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore as part of an exhibit opening March 25.

Menachem Wecker

Jewish Women Artists Talk About Their Work (Part Three)

Monday, April 2nd, 2007


         For the past two weeks, this column has attended to the exhibit “Words Within” of works by members of the Jewish Women Artist’s Network at the Columbia/ Barnard Hillel. In part three, four more artists discuss their work as Jewish, women artists.


Mystical Israeli Trees


         Elizabeth Barakah-Hodges of High Springs, Florida, had not thought of herself as a Jewish artist until she applied for a previous JWAN exhibit as an art student at University of North Florida. “I knew that I was Jewish, and an artist, but not a Jewish artist,” she says.


         Suddenly, she found her work full of Jewish references: The “Dorchester House” series was “totally Jewish-identified, full of references to Jewish culture and religion.” “Living Room” featured a mezuzah, “Kitchen” an ancient menorah from the Israel Museum, and Rosh Hashanah dinner set ready for guests in “Dining Room.”


Light and Peace:  Trees, by Elizabeth Barakah-Hodges. Acrylic, 2006.


         A Jewish CD cover, Chanukah card, and several other Jewish art projects and exhibits later, Barakah-Hodges found herself becoming “a Jewish artist more and more.” She lived and traveled in Israel for two-and-a-half months two summers ago, which proved an experience, which “moved me deeply and inspired my best work so far, my ‘Light and Peace series.'” “Light and Peace: Trees,” one of 22 paintings in the series to date, was part of the “Words Within” exhibit.


         “Trees” presents a view of the Kinneret, which Barakah-Hodges feels is uniquely her own. “Were I not Jewish and had I not studied (the little I have of) the Zohar, Jewish mysticism, and the sefirot, I could not have painted Israel so,” she says. “Had I not (earlier in my life) had a direct experience of G-d, I could not have painted this piece. I did feel the immanence of G-d in the land when I lived and traveled in Israel. It seemed to me that all is one, and there is nothing not-G-d.”


         At the opening to “Words Within,” Barakah-Hodges felt particularly aware of herself as a Jewish women artist after seeing “remarkable and powerful collections of work by Jewish women artists” and after seeing how many of the artists, and what a largely female group of non-artist attendees showed up at the event.


The Four Corners Of Jewish Art


         Marcia Talmage Schneider of New York, N.Y., describes herself as having a “very strong identification as a Jew,” specifically keeping Kashrut, attending Shabbat services, loving to visit Israel, having studied Judaic Studies on a university level, and speaking fluent Hebrew.


         Most of the themes in her art are inspired by tefillot, particularly “Pesukei d’Zimra or Psalms; and the Torah.” Her piece in “Words Within,” titled “Gather Us in Peace from the Four Corners of the Earth,” derives from the prayer that immediately precedes the Shema.


Gather Us in Peace from the Four Corners of the Earth, by Marcia Talmage Schneider. Acrylic, 1999.


         Schneider conceived of the piece praying one Shabbat in a Barcelona Sephardic synagogue several years ago. Praying from a Spanish-Hebrew siddur, she reached the words, “Gather us in peace from thefour corners of the Earth” and had an epiphany moment.


         “Here, I now was praying in a land in which my peoplewere tortured, killed and forced to convert or exiled 500 years before,” she says. “Yet, I was coming in peace from one of the four corners of the world to Spain. I was overcome with a burst of emotion. The words within my soul brought tears down my cheeks.”


         After returning home, Schneider created the painting using ancient Sephardi lettering and a design, which she researched and found in a Medieval Sephardic synagogue, which “matched the theme and the words of the prayer. The geometric design opens up into four directions, like the words – outwards, towards the four golden square corners of my painting. Four, being like the four fringes or tzitiot of a talit, which has as its source the Shema prayer. The words of this prayer within my painting are prayers for all Humankind.”


Kabbalistic Shells Of The Seashore


         Elaine Langerman of Washington, D.C., showed “Liver Series #6: Through His Creations” at the “Words Within” show.


         She describes the work, which contains many rectangles filled with fish and birds, as evoking Moroccan Zillig, Persian rugs, and Indian manuscripts. It also features old Hebrew texts, stories and passages from the Torah, and Yiddish tales, “little gems to be gleaned and polished like shells of the seashore.”


Liver Series #6: Through His Creations, by Elaine Langerman. Acrylic, 2006.



         White script – which could be confused with Arabic – in one of the rectangles declares, “… but only indirectly through His creations,” presumably referring to the means of “knowing” G-d.


         Langerman also found herself inspired by Jewish mystical sources and “the delight of discovering them and letting them form themselves into unexpected configurations impelled by a kind of private, mystical/mysterious experience,” which happened to her.


         “It’s a kind of spontaneous metamorphosis that happens on an intuitive level, away from logical, linear thinking,” she says. “Forming these composite, re-configured images is a kind of prayer for me – a sort of meditation about what is beyond what we see.”


Tender Heaviness And Heavy Tenderness


         Tamara Wasserman of Chicago, Ill., grew up in Israel and studied at the Bezalel Art School, an experience, coupled with the landscape, colors, air and light of Israel, which was “one of the most important influences in my life.”


         But Wasserman also sees herself as a blend of a few cultures (Eastern European, Israeli and American); “Add frequent traveling to it – and you come up with a pretty cosmopolitan Jewish woman.”


Heaviness and Tenderness, by Tamara Wasserman. Oil, 1999.


         Wasserman’s “Heaviness and Tenderness” is based upon a poem by Jewish poet Osip Mandelstam, whom she considers one of the most interesting poets of the Russian Silver Age, titled “Sisters Heavy and Tender.” Wasserman was particularly attracted to the poem, because of its focus on “opposites as being similar. This also happens to be one of the oldest ideas, an expression of which you can find in ‘Genesis‘ (the way G-d separates the light from the darkness).”


         In the painting, Wasserman paints a seated figure as “heavy and light at the same time.” Mandelstam’s 1920 poem is worth quoting in full:


Sisters “heavy” and “tender,” your signs are the same and repeated.

Bees and wasps will be sucking a heavy voluptuous rose.

Man is dying. The sand will grow dark and less heated.

And the sun of the past will be carried in blackness away.

Oh, the heaviest bee heaves, and the most tender tenets,

Repeating your name, oh, it’s harder than raising a stone!

I am left with a single and ultimate worry to ponder,

Golden worry, the burden of time to resolve.

And like darkening water, I drink of this turbulent air.

Time is turned by the plough, and a rose is an aspect of soil.

In a leisurely turmoil, those heavy and most tender roses,

Roses “heavy” and “tender” are weaved into wreathes of coil.


         This move of toying with weight and allowing the heavy to become tender and vice-versa is one Wasserman shares with Chagall, as we have explained previously in this column. But Wasserman’s painting employs a very different style from Chagall’s. Like Mandelstam’s poem, the painting shows a “leisurely turmoil” of illegible texts that all but obliterate the crouched figure.


         Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. His painting, “The Windows of Heaven” will be on exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore as part of an exhibit opening March 25.

Menachem Wecker

Jewish Women Artists Talk About Their Work (Part Two)

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007


         Last week, this column began discussing the exhibit, “Words Within,” works by members of the Jewish Women Artist’s Network at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel (through March 28). Particular attention was paid to Laura Kruger’s introduction in the catalog, Vivian Mann’s and Maya Katz’s introductions at the opening, and the works of Fay Grajower and Yona Verwer. In part two, I devote this column to four other artists from the show, and their comments on the challenges and rewards of working as a Jewish woman artist.



Midrash Pottery And Shabbat Chess


         For the past 25 years, Irene Helitzer, of Sea Cliff, NY, has created “MidrashPottery,” or Jewish ceremonial pottery, that “celebrates our traditions and define the ways Jews live their lives today.” Helitzer’s chosen media is particularly difficult, due to tough competition from inexpensive imports of mass produced Chinese and Philippines-made Judaica objects that she feels “are hurting the American Judaica artist.”


         “My work is an expression of living my life as a committed Jew and the pieces are intended to encourage the owners to use them,” she says. All of her work contains note cards explaining the ceremonies surrounding the piece.


         Her submission to “Words Within” is a Chess set, titled, “Shabbat Opposing the Work Week”  (Stone, 2005). The piece casts the Shabbat Bride as the queen, the Torah as the king, Angels of Peace as bishops, candles as knights, the rooks symbolize peace at home, and the pawns are challah, wine, pillows, a tzedakah box, a cholent pot, fish, roast chicken and the Siddur.


         The opposing side incorporates the working man and woman, boy and girl with backpacks, SUVs, ATM machines and pawns as “symbols of the work week,” along with credit cards, telephones, fast food, exercise equipment, computers, television, traffic signs and shopping carts. The board is a calendar design, with Shabbat in the center, orbited by the workdays. Helitzer sees the “Shabbat line up” as opposition to “a contemporary family, busy at work.”



Shabbat, Opposing the Work Week, by Irene Helitzer. Stoneware, 2005



          The set resembles a project Helitzer created of Passover chess sets (the Egyptians against the Israelites, obviously), which casts the two teams in an equally clever fashion. The Egyptian king is Pharaoh, the bishops are overseers, the knights are cats, the Pyramids are castles, and the pawns double as Egyptian deities and the Golden Calf. The Israelite team includes the People of Israel as King, Moses as the queen (“the Queen is the most active player”), Aaron and Miriam as bishops, lambs as knights,sukkah huts as castles, and the Ten Plagues as pawns.


Women Lighting The Torah


         Jeanette Kuvin Oren of Woodbridge, CT, has created Judaica exclusively in her entire 22-year career. Her chosen media and materials include hand-dyed silks, cottons, synthetic fabrics, quilting, mosaics, donor walls and stained glass.


         “Being a woman influences my art, of course, and it has helped make me successful,” she says. “Probably the ‘woman’ thing has helped most in my ability to listen carefully to what my clients (synagogues mostly) want to express in their Judaic art. My art is colorful and filled with my love of Judaism, which I think is picked up on by men and women, and children, too.”




Light of Torah, by Jeanette Kuvin Oren. Fabric Torah cover, 2006



         Kuvin Oren’s piece in “Words Within,” Light of Torah (fabric Torah cover, 2006), reflects her preference for “art that uplifts, informs, expresses my joy in Judaism, and is accessible.” The Torah cover shows active Jewish women: Eve pursuing knowledge, Sarah inviting guests, Leah cuddling a baby, Rebecca offering food, Rachel teaching children, Tamar leading a crowd, and Miriam leading the Israelites. Kuvin Oren explains that although many see the words of the Torah as outdated and irrelevant to women today, “They are, in fact, very relevant. Each of the figures on the Torah cover expresses a hope and desire women of all ages have for themselves.” She even added fluorescent bulbs within the cover, which allows the light/words to “shine outward to women of today and the future.”


Photographing The Hidden Synagogue


         Emily Corbato of Plum Island and Newton, MA, is a scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. Her photograph of the synagogue, hidden in a Terezin storeroom in house L225, includes words painted on the wall:


         And in all this we still have not forgotten Your Name, Please do not forsake us, Rescue us on behalf of Your Name. Listen to our prayers. Candles symbolize the forbidden ceremonies held in darkness. Words from Hashkiveinu echo in my mind as I imagine these silent prayers: shelter us beneath Thy wings, to keep us safe throughout the night.


Terezin: The Hidden Synagogue, by Emily Corbato. Black and white silverprint, 2003



         Corbato describes the piece as art that is “most definitely Jewish. It is strong, especially when text is included … It says about Jewish art that it is powerful, it is profound and personal and universal and sad and glorious in its making. It will bring some viewers to tears, and will stay in the minds of others. It tells of tradition, history, hope, destruction, rebirth. It tells the Jewish story.”


         Although she is comfortable identifying herself as Jewish, a woman, and an artist – and any combination therein – Corbato stresses that she sees herself primarily as herself. “I want my work to stand by itself, not categorized by feminism or Judaism or any other attribute I do or do not have,” she adds. “There is no one path to being a Jewish woman artist, and everyone responds differently. However as a Jew there is always unity with other Jews, and this amity is of course felt among Jewish women artists, as represented in this JWAN exhibit.”


Ketubah Collage


         The piece that Flora Rosefsky of Atlanta, GA, submitted to the Columbia show is sure to be endemic to Jewish women art, as it incorporates a copy of the artist’s own Ketubah (which she points out, “only a Jewish woman would have”) and eyelet curtains and recycled quilt fabrics, which she adds, “a male artist would be less likely to use these materials in their work.”


Ketubah Reflections/ Revisited I, by Flora Rosefsky. Mixed media collage: pastel, gouache, watercolor, fabric, paper cutouts 2006



         Rosefsky defines herself as an artist in many ways: a spiritual mixed-media artist, a spiritual collage artist, an artist who expresses her Jewish heritage in her work, and one who seeks new ways to express Jewish ideas in a contemporary way. Her “Ketubah Reflections/Revisited I” is part of a series of four pieces on the theme of the Jewish marriage and “the lasting and unique quality of the Jewish marriage document, the Ketubah.” The collage of recycled curtain fabric, quilt textiles and paper cutouts “reflect the complexity of a marriage within the framework of one’s home.”


        Ultimately, though, the most Jewish aspect of the work came to Rosefsky from Jewish viewers who, no doubt, were all too happy to present their own interpretations and experiences. “Some saw the ‘curtain’ material as a ‘chuppah.’ Others saw the structure of a house with some chaos, and yet some order at the same time within it,” she says. “Does this make it ‘Jewish art?’ It might depend upon who sees the work, and where they are coming from as far as their own Jewish background.”


        Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. His painting, “The Windows of Heaven,” will be on exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore as part of an exhibit, which opened on March 25.

Menachem Wecker

Jewish Women Artists Talk About Their Work (Part One)

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Words Within

A National Juried Exhibition of

The Jewish Women Artist’s Network

February 12 – March 28, 2007

Columbia/Barnard University

Kraft Center for Jewish Life

606 West 115th Street, New York



         On Sunday, February 18, I attended an opening at the Kraft Center for Jewish Life (also known as the Columbia/Barnard Hillel) for the exhibit Words Within. At the opening, Vivian Mann and Maya Katz spoke about the exhibit, which is organized by the Jewish Women Artist’s Network, juried by Laura Kruger, and co-chaired by Fay Grajower and Simone Soltan. My friend Miriam Weiler, a student at Barnard, was instrumental in pulling the exhibit together and promoting it on the Columbia/Barnard side.


         Over the next column or two, I will gather together a smorgasbord of voices of the 61 Jewish women artists who are creating exciting new works that grapple with Jewish issues and texts, both contemporary and ancient. The exhibit is traveling next to the Robin-Frankel Gallery at the Boston University Hillel from April 12 until June 30, 2007.



The Theory


         In the opening to the catalog, Fay Grajower and Simone Soltan explain that to People of the Book, “words have long played an important role.” They found the submissions they received “organically evolved into identifiable categories”: interpreting Jewish text; memory and history; Judaism and women; Jewish tradition, nature and spirituality; Judaism and identity; Judaism and present day challenges; and family and life cycle.


         Laura Kruger, curator at the Hebrew Union College Museum, expanded the discussion to not only the condition of Jewish women artists, but of Jewish art in general. “From the very inception of Judaism and the embrace of monotheism, Hebrew tradition has limited production of many images in art,” she wrote, citing the prohibition in the Ten Commandments to make graven images. But however much idols were restricted, Kruger found a balancing act in the Torah’s encouragement of Jews to engage in hiddur mitzvah, which she called “the positive act of enhancing prayer by beautifying ritual and ceremonial objects for the visual glorification of G-d.”


         Within this beautification, Jews engaged in a variety of art works that used calligraphy, micrography, stained glass, weaving, and paper cuts of Hebrew words and phrases, which “became the sustaining cultural identifier of the Jewish people.” To Kruger, the artists of Words Within embrace the “basic theme of Judaism, extolling texts and words and their interpretations.”


From Hegel To Carob Trees


         In their comments at the opening, Drs. Mann and Katz outlined a more academic template for viewing and contextualizing the works. Mann cited 18th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who claimed there was no such thing as Jewish art. What Hegel would have thought of contemporary Jewish artists’ work, like that of Words Within, is up for discussion, but Mann said she found it “very fulfilling to look at pieces with great textual components,” which held women’s voices as the “main ingredient.” Mann cited the example of the prophetess Devorah, who composed her own Jewish texts (the Song of Devorah). “There are many instances where women spoke by their deeds.”



Maya Katz (left) speaks, as Vivian Mann looks on at the exhibit opening.

Photo by Menachem Wecker


         Mann also found memory to be a large part of the exhibit, though she said she finds the “new” Judaica, in general, to lag behind in creativity.


         Katz’s remarks focused on specific texts. Unlike Mann, she found that “women did not have an active role in the writing of traditional Jewish texts.” The important discussion, then, is “the role of women in elucidating and interpreting male written texts.” As an example, Katz addressed the Talmudic story from Bava Metzia where Rabbi Eliezer tries in vain to rally nature to support his position in a debate with the rabbis. He instructed a carob tree, a stream and the very walls of the study hall to miraculously testify to his position, and they all did. Each time, the rabbis assured him that the Torah was not in the heavens, but quite grounded in the world and in “nuts-and-bolts” processes like majority rules. Even a heavenly Bat Kol (literally daughter voice) could not protect Rabbi Eliezer’s argument, which led G-d to “smile” and say, “My children have defeated me.”


         In the story of Rabbi Eliezer, Katz found the Talmud to be less “impressed with the original authorial voice” than with “the interpretive dialectic instead.” Extending that lesson to the exhibit, she added, “Words don’t compete with images; they generate the images, they exist for the images and they co-exist with the images.”


Turning Back The Biblical Clock


         Fay Grajower’s “reset the clock” is a mixed media collage with ink on layered paper, with an accompanying poem. The palette is mostly yellow, purple and black, with some blue, white and red. Floral patterning occupies two of the paper’s corners, and with the exception of a watch face in the lower right corner, the work evokes a cubist still life. The poem is worth quoting in full, because it is almost a painting itself:


reset the clock

there is no chronology

to the



yet traditionally

we learn


relate stories

in some order

a beginning and an end

seder – order


flies right by

when did something happen?

time – order


if we could only

reset the clock


Fay Grajower’s “reset the clock.”


         In an interview, Grajower, who calls herself “an artist who is female and Jewish” but chooses not to “market” or label herself specifically, explained that her inspiration for the piece derives from the “Talmudic idiomatic expression, ayn mukdam u’m’uchar ba’Torah [there is no earlier or later in the Torah].” The commentator Rashi invokes this phrase, in part, to explain the question: which came first, the Golden Calf or the revelation at Sinai.


         Grajower says the piece also is influenced by her “upbringing, learning and life style,” though she is careful to speak about her own work and not Jewish art in general. “Just as my artwork is influenced by my heritage, so is my participation in the Jewish community at large influenced by my perceptions as an artist and my involvement in the greater world community influenced by my being Jewish and an artist.”


Sibling Rivalry: Jacob And Esau


         In response to my question whether she identifies herself as a Jewish artist, a Jewish woman artist or a woman artist, Yona Verwer assured me she identified as all three, as well as “a Dutch-American artist and a New York artist.”


         I met Verwer at the Makor Gallery at the 92nd Street Y, where we were both artists-in-residence two years ago. At Makor, she showed works about amulets, which she called “The Kabbala of Bling.” Verwer has also painted a series of abstract works on the Urim vTumim and, as an artist-in-residence at the SAR school in Riverdale, she is painting a large-scale installation based on the seven days of Creation.




Yona Verwer’s “Sibling Rivalry: Jacob And Esau



      Verwer’s painting, “Sibling Rivalry,” shows Jacob and Esau glaring at each other. One (presumably Esau) is covered in earth tones: reds, browns and yellows (he was after all, a “red man” and a man of the field), while the tent dweller (Jacob) is lit with cold blues. To Verwer, Jacob and Esau fought (and their descendents follow suit), despite “the brother’s similarities,” which she commemorates with grid work in the background of the painting that joins the figures together.        


      “Whether it’s the Jewish or non-Jewish art world – it’s still pretty much a boys’ club,” Verwer said in response to my questions about the challenges of painting as a Jewish woman. But she is not discouraged and in “Sibling Rivalry” managed to create the kind of Jewish art she says she likes best: one that “grabs you by the throat; that bounces off the walls.”


         Menachem Wecker is a painter, writer and editor based in Washington, D.C. He welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. His painting, “The Windows of Heaven” will be on exhibit at the JCC of Greater Baltimore as part of an exhibit opening March 25.

Menachem Wecker

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/jewish-women-artists-talk-about-their-work-part-one/2007/03/21/

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