Sisterhood Blog

The Eastern European Fetish

By Hannah Rubin

Olga K, Eastern Eve by Sasha Rudensky

Recent studies show that only 30% of artists represented by galleries are female. This statistic is troubling, given that women comprise 80% of BFA graduates, and 60% of MFA graduates. In this series, The Sisterhood aims to shed light on this staggering gender skew in the art world. We will be interviewing different female artists, in order to discuss the way they navigate gender, sexuality, religion, family, and politics in their life and work.

Photographer Sasha Rudenksy describes her latest project, Eastern Eve, as a self-portrait, one that meditates on the fantasies of the Eastern European woman. The fascinating part? There isn’t a single self-portrait in the series.

Since emigrating to the U.S. from Moscow at the age of nine, Rudensky has spent the last two decades traveling between her two homelands. She uses her photography as a means of personally investigating the contradictions and continuities of contemporary Russian culture. Though her work defies being labeled as “feminine,” it culls from a sensibility that is distinctly gentle and yet perverse, that seeks to make photographs that are repellent and attractive. They trade in generalities, but their details establish her voice — a statue of Stalin in a hallway, a wall of faded shampoo advertisements, the surprisingly limber legs of an eleven-year old rhythmic gymnast. Each picture becomes a question, a statement, a kind of rhythmic curiosity of light, color, and form that points to a history and a future that both feel unknown. Rudensky received her BFA in Photography from Yale in 2008 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography at Wesleyan University.

I talked with Sasha over the course of two afternoons about her experiences with sexism as an undergraduate, her thoughts on photography as a medium, and her latest series Eastern Eve.

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Tallying Inequality in the Art World

By Hannah Rubin

Final Fantasy installation by Micol Hebron, 2007

Recent studies show that only 30% of artists represented by galleries are female. In this series, The Sisterhood aims to shed light on this staggering gender disparity. We will be interviewing different female artists, in order discuss the way they navigate gender, sexuality, religion, family, and politics in their life and work.

Micol Hebron has no problem speaking out against the patriarchy. And in her latest art project, Gallery Tally, that is exactly what she is doing. But, this time, she the numbers to prove it.

Gallery Tally, which began in 2013, is a collaborative art project that invites artists all over the world to calculate and visualize the gender ratios at top contemporary art galleries. As of this point, over 300 artists have been involved and roughly 500 art posters — each one spotlighting the statistics at a specific art gallery — have been made. The poster for L.A.’s Blum and Poe Gallery features a detailed pencil drawing of Miley Cyrus twerking against Robin Thicke, with the caption “89% men.” Mark Moore Gallery’s poster is a collaged fruit stand, where bananas represent men and peaches represent women. There are 23 bananas and 8 peaches. These posters speak for the main message of the project: when it comes to the art world, there isn’t much space for women.

Photo by Safi Alia Shabaik
Hannah Rubin

According to Gallery Tally’s research, approximately 80% of BA and BFA graduates are female, and approximately 60% of MFA graduates are female. Yet, only 30% of artists represented by galleries are female. According to further data collected by Hebron, between the years of 2011 and 2014, women’s artwork at the nation’s top auction houses was sold at 12 cents to the dollar, as compared to men’s work.

No stranger at poking fun at herself, Hebron has been channeling her frustrations about gender inequities into her art for over a decade. Whether she is doing this through a series of fifty glitter paintings, or taking portraits of people chewing bubble gum, depends on the day, and the project. When she speaks, her voice sparkles with authority — commanding attention and respect both while cracking jokes and waxing philosophical.

Over the course of two afternoons, Micol Hebron and I talked at length about her experiences with sexism in the Fine Arts World, the wild fire success of Gallery Tally, and how feminism can be more than just a social media trend.

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Picturing Mary, History's Best-Known Jewish Woman

By Menachem Wecker

Nicolò Barabino’s 1884 mural “Faith with Representations,” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts

An exhibit about the Virgin Mary, which is curated by a Florentine priest, makes the case that the mother of Jesus must be understood, at least in part, as a Jewish woman.

That the Christian messiah’s mother was born in a Jewish home is one of several seeming contradictions with which the Gospel of James wrestles, wrote Miri Rubin, a history professor at London’s Queen Mary University, in the “Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea” exhibit catalog.

Speaking at a press preview of the exhibit, on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts until April 12, curator, Msgnr. Timothy Verdon, a priest and director of Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, reminded reporters that Mary is also relevant to Jews and Muslims. (“If anything,” he said, Mary has “a more fascinating place in the Koran than her son does.”)

“Mary is, after all, a daughter of her people,” he said. “The way the Christian gospels describe her, she is the fullness of all that the Jewish scriptures propose as significant and courageous and noble in womanhood.”

Both religious and non-religious viewers can benefit from seeing the exhibit, according to Verdon; religious people “certainly will remain deeply moved by these images,” and secular viewers can relate to “our universal experiences as daughters and sons of women.”

Not much is known of Mary’s life, but, according to apocryphal texts, she was raised in the Jewish temple, where she later married, and was thus aware of Jewish rituals. She and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the temple and offered a sacrifice “in obedience to Jewish ritual law,” Verdon writes in the catalog. And in his woodcut of Jesus’ circumcision, which foreshadows the crucifixion, Albrecht Dürer “counts on his public to know that she [Mary] was brought up in the temple and understands its rites,” Verdon wrote.

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Free Frida Kahlo!

By Elissa Strauss

Often, when a member of a marginalized group achieves fame in an area in which her group lacks representation, she becomes an icon. This is nearly inevitable, and continues to happen today to women like Lena Dunham and Hillary Clinton.

Being an icon definitely has its perks. People love you. They want more of you and what you do. And they’ll pay.

But it also has it drawbacks. Icon status forces a person into symbol-status. No longer does who they are and what they do just represent them as individuals, but also the whole underrepresented group that identifies with them. Before long they are expected to be all things to all people, and somewhere in that process the focus on their work and message either becomes skewed or disappears.

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Teaching Horror of Shoah Rape With Crochet

By Elissa Strauss

Gil Yefman’s TumTum

For nearly six months last year, Dr. Rochelle Saidel, founder and executive director of Remember the Women Institute, and artist Gil Yefman met weekly to talk about a topic deemed untouchable by many in their respective communities of academia and art: rape during the Holocaust. Saidel, who along with Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth, edited a book on the topic, initially met Yefman at a panel discussion on forced prostitution at Auschwitz. “I wondered why there was a young man in the front row who was crocheting as he sat and listened,” Saidel said.

The weekly meetings eventually fed into the work Yefman created for his new show “TO ME YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL {BAY MIR BISTU SHEYN},” now at Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York City. His first solo exhibition in New York, the show takes a sharp look at gender identity, sexuality and violence through the soft touch of traditionally feminine formats methods like crochet, soap-making and glamour shots. While walking through the exhibit I found myself seduced into believing I was safe amidst these mediums often associated with domestic crafts, and then would soon feel ripped open by the subject matter of rape, trans-identity, and prostitution. To Yefman’s credit, the power of pieces lies in their intimate, rather than political, approach to the subject matter.

The Sisterhood spoke with Yefman about the new exhibit, which is up through June 14.

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Gimme Shelter: An Artist's Response to Homelessness

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

courtesy Heather Stoltz
A sukkah crafted from the stories of the homeless.

Heather Stoltz discovered quilting and fiber art in an unconventional way. Then again, approaching things unconventionally isn’t anything new for her. With a degree in mechanical engineering in hand, she went on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Jewish Women’s Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary.

We met soon after that, as Arts Fellows at Drisha, a center for women’s Torah study in Manhattan. Since that time she’s been integrating her love of Jewish texts and values with her art. She now has a compelling new art/social justice project that will be on view at synagogues and churches in the coming months.

The project is called “Temporary Shelter” and was born out of her interactions with homeless people.

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The Kittel as Maternal Love

By Jacqueline Nicholls

courtesy Jacqueline Nicolls
Jacqueline Nicholls’ ‘Maternal Kittel’

“She is not worried for her household because of the snow, for her whole household is dressed in scarlet. ” (from ‘Eshet Chayil’ - Proverbs 31:21)

This kittel explores the mother as dressmaker. When she clothes her children she is providing not just physical protection, but also nurturing and caring for them, even when she is absent.

Mothers have always done this. In the Bible’s Book of Samuel 1, Chapter 2, Hannah says goodbye to Shmuel and leaves him at the Mishkan with an ‘ephod’ a white linen garment. According to the midrash this garment grew as the boy grew older, keeping him constantly connected to his mother, who had prayed so desperately for a child. In Genesis, Rivka dresses her favorite son, Ya’acov, in his older brother’s clothing so they can fool his father into giving him the first-born son’s blessing. He then left and never saw his mother again. When Adam and Chava leave Gan Eden, God acts as their mother when clothing them to face the world.

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Clever Feminist Art, Courtesy of Drisha

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

Tanya Fredman
Tanya Fredman’s “Keva,” oil on canvas, featured in the Drisha’s exhibit. (click to enlarge)

In the mood for clever feminist art that is at once subversive and respectful of Jewish text? Then check out Drisha’s exhibit and afternoon of performances by its Arts Fellows on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Drisha, a center for advanced Torah study for women right near Lincoln Center, has a fantastic program for artists of every stripe — painters and other visual artists, musicians and dramatists, even writers (I was fortunate to be a full-time Drisha Arts Fellow last year). Some are religiously observant, some are not and many fall somewhere on the spectrum.

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