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  • Anonymous No More: Carol Hamoy’s Visible Women
  • Judith Margolis (bio)

For all the dinners are cooked; the plates and cups washed; the children sent to school and gone out into the world. Nothing remains of it all. All has vanished. No biography or history has a word to say about it. . . . All these infinitely obscure lives remain to be recorded.

—Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Clothing, not fashion, has always been an integral part of my life, not just because it covers a person but because it can be a protection, a description, a way of knowing a person.

—Carol Hamoy

American artist Carol Hamoy belongs to the growing number of Jewish feminist artists who are addressing biblical themes in visual art.1 For Hamoy, recovering the histories and lives of women has been the central focus of a long and productive career. Her multimedia installation The Invisible Part of the Children of Israel was a centerpiece of MATRONITA, an exhibition of international Jewish feminist art presented by the Museum of Art in Ein Harod, Israel, last year. Most of the artists in that exhibit engaged with and provoked critical examination of Orthodox practice and belief. Hamoy’s exceptional piece instead evokes the ancient past and its imprint upon our consciousness. Indeed, it reshapes that imprint.

The Invisible Part of the Children of Israel is emblematic of Hamoy’s meticulous scholarly research and carefully honed skills as an assemblage sculptor/seamstress. “Anonymous was a woman,” goes the feminist dictum, and this complex work, deceptively simple in presentation, makes that truism explicit. It does so by training a brilliantly nuanced lens on what is missing.

Hamoy calls herself “a storyteller and an educator.” In evoking stories of women while simultaneously referencing the womanly arts of sewing and needlework, she has been well served by her family’s background in the New York City garment industry [End Page 139]

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Carol Hamoy, The Invisible Part of the Children of Israel, as shown in the MATRONITA Exhibition at Ein Harod, Israel

Photo by Judith Margolis

and her way with a sewing machine, notions and fabric. The dresses that usually make up her sculptural assemblages and installations have mostly been crafted out of found fabric and garments. In this work, however, they are made of exceedingly thin vinyl and are glued, not sewn. The dresses are in a lot of one hundred—ten minyanim (a minyan of ten men being the traditional Jewish prayer quorum, in which women do not count)—but they are not repeats of the same garment. As Hamoy explains: “Each [dress] represents a woman who was not acknowledged, and to honor them, each is represented with a different pattern.” Lavish and labor-intensive attention to detail is typical of this artist’s creative process. In one interview, Hamoy described [End Page 140] the seamstress tricks she used in creating the dresses, recounting with obvious pride: “rouching, pleats, shirring, puff sleeves, cap sleeves, dolman sleeves.”

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Carol Hamoy, The Invisible Part of the Children of Israel, as shown in The Opalka Gallery/Sage Colleges, Albany, New York

Photo by Jim Richard Wilson

At the museum in Ein Harod, The Invisible Part of the Children of Israel was situated at the top of a short staircase, requiring a viewer to approach it with expectant and respectful effort. Its 100 transparent dresses hang from clear filaments, the glistening [End Page 141] threads adding to an ethereal, breathless sense of Presence. At the same time, their glassy, frothy insubstantiality evokes an Absence.

On the wall nearby, Hamoy affixed a grid of onion-skin-like paper on which texts, as graphic testimony, encapsulate the lives of the Bible’s largely unknown and overlooked women. Famous characters like Esther and Eve appear alongside bit players like Ada and Adibaa, who are named in the apocryphal Book of Jubilees as wives of the progenitors of the tribes.

Hamoy longs to know the content of these women’s lives, their ideas, their places in society, their histories. “I always carry a small notebook so I can jot down, for future reference, the...


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pp. 139-145
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