- The 2015 Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art
The Jerusalem Biennale is a platform for professional artists whose current work relates, in one way or another, to the world of Jewish content within the conceptual framework of contemporary Jewish art. It does not attempt to answer the questions of what contemporary Jewish art is, or whether there is such a thing at all. The Biennale endeavors to create spaces where the discussion can take place and develop.
Many people view the fields of “Jewish art” and “contemporary art” as mutually exclusive. Jewish art is often associated with Judaica—traditional objects used in religious rituals— while contemporary art is characterized by the use of modern media such as video, sound, installation and performance, and by themes relevant to the present. The main challenge of the Jerusalem Biennale is to promote art that is both Jewish and contemporary. This focus offers a promising alternative to the conventional boundaries of Israeli art and opens the event up to the Jewish world at large.
The Power of Jerusalem
Artists from all over the world who refer to Jewish content in their work treasure the opportunity offered by the Biennale to display their works in Jerusalem. If the contemporary art world sees Jerusalem as peripheral, the contemporary Jewish art world sees Jerusalem as its center. Tel Aviv may be the undisputed capital of the Israeli art world, but Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish art world.
The 2015 Biennale (September 24—November 5, 2015) presented ten separately curated exhibitions with nearly 200 participating artists, half from Israel and half from around the world. The curators came from widely varying backgrounds, religious and secular, including two from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, one from a settlement in Gush Etzion, a Jerusalem-based curator who focuses on post-secularism, members of an organization of Jewish artists in Los Angeles, a specialist in artists’ books from Buenos Aires, a feminist artist-curator, and a team of four artist-mothers who joined together to produce an exhibition about motherhood from a post-feminist perspective. All of them are now part of the discourse about Jewishness—past, present and future. [End Page 142]
Seventy-five percent of the participating artists in the 2015 Biennale were women, and many of the works and even whole exhibitions referred directly to women’s roles in shaping Jewish life and culture. The 54 art works addressing the weekly Torah readings created for Women of the Book, curated by Shoshana Gugenheim, Judith Margolis and Ronit Steinberg, offer a quintessential example of how art can be an entrance point for introducing new, feminine reflection on Jewish texts.
A very different example of the manifestation of women’s voices through art was presented by the exhibition Ima Ila’a: The Art of Motherhood. Organized, curated and produced by a group of four mothers, Nurit Sirkis Bank, Noa Lea Cohen, Yehudis Barmats and Alana Ruben-Free, it explored the experience of being a mother in the Jewish religious world and the inspiration generated by that experience for creative process.
The discourse around questions like “What is Jewish?” and “What does Jewish peoplehood consist of?” usually involves intellectuals, spiritual leaders, politicians and journalists. The Jerusalem Biennale seeks to bring the voices of contemporary artists into that discussion. Women’s voices are currently very dominant in this field. To support contemporary Jewish art is thus to support the voices of women in contemporary Jewish discourse.
Women of the Book—The 2015 Jerusalem Biennale
Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18–20), by Silvia Rubinson
From the artist’s statement: The Ten Commandments and the precept of “Love thy neighbor as thyself” constitute the backbone and essence of the Torah and of life itself. To embrace them is to be engulfed in a world where “being” takes priority over “having.” . . .
I include in the parchment scroll an etching of the Ten Commandments extracted from the Torah scroll brought by my family from Europe when they emigrated to Argentina in 1928. I also draw on commentaries and poems extolling the greatness of the Torah, most of them found in primary and secondary...