Sisterhood Blog

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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