Of all the stories of Righteous Gentiles who saved Jews during the Shoah, there’s one story that rarely gets told: the Muslims who risked their lives to save Jews.
Norman H. Gershman’s photographic exhibition “Besa,” currently showing at the Soho Photo Gallery, redresses this imbalance, focusing exclusively on the unsung Albanian Muslim heroes who hid their Jewish neighbours from the Nazis, as well as thousands of other Jews fleeing across Europe, often at great risk to their lives.
The portraits, which have been published in a book with the same title, were painstakingly taken by Gershman over a seven-year period, in which he tracked down these ordinary Albanian and Kosovar Muslims whose families closely observed the principle of “Besa” to save Jewish lives.
Daniel Libeskind’s ‘Wheel of Conscience’ in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Courtesy Canadian Jewish Congress.
The ill-fated voyage of the MS St. Louis, the Hamburg-based ocean liner intended to transport 907 mostly German Jewish refugees to Cuba in May 1939, has always played a central role in early Holocaust history, and not only because it unraveled, tragically, like a Hollywood drama. (Indeed, the story was made into a 1976 film called “Voyage of the Damned,” based on a book of the same name.) Rather, the episode exposed a peculiar unwillingness on the part of the United States and Canada to accept Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany, even though Hitler’s anti-Semitism was already well known. Turned away at Havana, the ship unsuccessfully sought safe harbor in Florida and Nova Scotia before returning to Europe. Many of the passengers eventually died in the Holocaust.
In Canada, the story of the country’s anti-Jewish immigration policies has been recorded in the seminal 1983 book “None Is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe, 1933-1948” by Irving Abella and Harold Troper. Yet the public’s awareness of the Holocaust tends not to linger on that aspect of history. On January 20, however, Pier 21, Canada’s Immigration Museum in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in partnership with the Canadian Jewish Congress, will unveil an MS St. Louis monument designed by New York-based architect Daniel Libeskind. Pier 21 was the entry point for over one million European immigrants to Canada, from 1928 to 1971.
King David is a smiling child in a red T-shirt and corduroys. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fills in for Haman. David Ben-Gurion is leading Holocaust survivors across the Red Sea.
That’s the aim of the Dura Europos Project, on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art until March 27 — to present a decidedly modern take on the oldest known examples of Jewish artwork.
Discovered in 1920 in a synagogue in the ancient Roman town of Dura, the Dura Europos frescoes date to 245 C.E. and depict scenes from the Tanach — everything from the story of Esther to Ezekiel’s vision of dry bones.
The project, curated by Joel Silverstein and Richard McBee, features paintings created specifically for the exhibit by members of New York’s Jewish Art Salon, based on portions of the frescoes.
View a slideshow of images from the ‘Dura Europos Project’:
Crossposted from Haaretz
One of the first stops made by visitors to the new Warsaw Ghetto Uprising exhibit in the Yad Mordechai Museum, in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, is the projection of a yellow star on their clothing. By moving your body, you put the virtual patch in the place where it belongs. It’s part of the concept of bringing viewers into the experience.
Later on, in order to peek at a model of the Warsaw Ghetto one takes a virtual journey on a railway car to a death camp. After the doors shut, with a realistic-sounding noise, the trip begins. A subwoofer speaker under the car simulates the sounds of traveling by train, while images of the ghetto, and then of the extermination camps, go past the barbed-wire-covered windows.
As you stand in the Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, you can’t be sure if the figures in Joshua Meyer’s multi-layered oil paintings are emerging toward you or receding away into a complex sea of colors. That lack of certainty suits the artist just fine, as he considers his paintings to reside in “a netherworld, an in-between place of frictions, edges and reactions between different things.”
The 16 paintings by Meyer which make up this show, titled “Everything in Between” and which runs until January 29, exist in stark contrast to the clean, sharp lines of the gallery space with its white walls, blond wood floor and large, loft-like windows overlooking the tony Union Square shopping district.
Meyer explained that it is impossible to make a line when painting with a palette knife, as he has done almost exclusively for the past decade. “I found something intrinsically wrong about brushes. With a knife, you work more spot by spot, moment by moment. It’s about juxtaposition rather than smooth motion,” he said.
View a slideshow of paintings by Joshua Meyer:
Crossposted from Haaretz
It’s not quite clear whether Yanai Toister’s new show is a photography exhibition without any photos or a photo exhibition without any photography. Now on display at Dvir Gallery in Tel Aviv, Toister’s latest effort is the result of thoughts that have occupied him for several years now, about the way architecture and color integrate, and the formalism of photography.
The invitation to the show features an overhead view of a textbook, opened to a page with several graphs, placed atop a marble background. The book’s title, “The Keepers of Light,” inspired the name of Toister’s exhibition, “Keepers of the Light.” But neither the name or accompanying photo offer even a hint of what visitors will discover at the show.
To see the splendid new exhibit of caricatures and miniature drawings by Polish-born Jewish illustrator Arthur Szyk (1894-1951), on view until March 27 at San Francisco’s Legion of Honor, you first have to walk through several galleries of religious paintings devoted to Christian saints, Madonnas with child, and Christ on the cross. Szyk’s pictures also introduce religious themes, but his portraits of martyrs and Jewish heroes are often less reverential than those in the museum’s adjoining rooms.
Szyk has no respect for the tyrants who oppress Jews. In a drawing titled “Valhalla” he satirically portrays Hitler and Mussolini as beer hall waiters serving rowdy Nazi soldiers, one of whom tramples a prostrate Jew. “De profundis,” a more startling 1943 pen and ink response to Nazi cruelty, depicts Christ holding the Ten Commandments atop a pile of war victims, many of them Jewish. A Torah and yarmulkes on bearded heads can be seen among the fallen. Ornately lettered words above the tumbled mass of men, women and children ask: “Cain, where is Abel thy brother?”
View a slideshow of images by Arthur Szyk:
A version of this post appeared in Yiddish here.
Last month, New York’s central Jewish education agency changed its name, and is now celebrating its new identity with a fascinating exhibit of a fresh new Jewish artist and art educator.
The exhibit, hosted by the Jewish Education Project (formerly the Board of Jewish Education of New York) until May 23, is called “The Art of Seeing,” and features the work of Tanya Fredman, a 25-year-old native of St. Louis, Mo., whose oil paintings, portraits and collages depict an unusual blend of cross-cultural diversity and Talmudic study.
At the exhibit’s opening on December 9, Fredman explained that she gets deep satisfaction from directing community-wide art projects, using art as a form of expression and as a tool for uniting people of different cultures.
In this, the second annual Forward Fives selection, we celebrate the year’s cultural output with a series of deliberately eclectic choices in film, music, theater, exhibitions and books. Here we present five of the most important Jewish exhibitions of 2010. Feel free to argue with and add to our selections in the comments.
Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism
Like any good retrospective, the Jewish Museum’s display of 32 pieces of art from the past 50 years makes an argument for their continued relevance. Instead of focusing on a single artist, however, “Shifting the Gaze” shows how the entire question of Jewish gender identity and its artistic expression is still very much with us. Featuring works by artists such as Judy Chicago, Joan Semmel and Deborah Kass, the exhibit illustrates how feminist ideas have challenged conventions in the art world and have resulted in thought-provoking new works.
Read the Forward’s review of ‘Shifting the Gaze’ here.
Crossposted from Haaretz
A line of nine chairs greets the visitor to the exhibition “A chair is a chair is a chair” at the Paradigma design gallery in Tel Aviv. For a moment it seems as if they were placed there as part of a children’s game of “musical chairs.”
The fact that these are not standard chairs contributes to the feeling of a game, but above all this feeling stems from the fact that it is clear that the chairs are not meant to be mass produced, but rather are experimental objects whose morphology those who designed them wish to investigate, even if this is at the expense of comfort or utility. This is also true of the other chairs on display at the exhibition — 17 in all.
It is safe to wager that New York City has seen it all when an art rave fashion show spirals into an impromptu hora on an open, desolate warehouse block. These men’s dancing feet may have been inspired by a sudden spiritual impulse to be closer to God. But the sudden shakedown also could have been a reaction to the recent display of Jewish girls strutting down a catwalk wearing little more than their grandfather’s tallis.
On December 1, in a 20,000-square-foot loft in Brooklyn, Hanukkah was promoted from the festival of lights to the festival of art, music, and fashion. The event kicked off the sixth annual Sephardic Music Festival, which has been throwing light on Sephardic culture for the last six years through diverse artistic events in venues around the city. With a sumptuous arsenal of musical and artistic talent, the Sephardic Music Festival strives to revitalize a spiritually thrilling aspect of Jewish history.
Based on first impressions alone, it would be tempting to dismiss Or Even Tov and Miri Segal’s video exhibit “Future Perfect,” on view until December 11 at Tel Aviv’s Dvir Gallery, as clever if somewhat overstated satire. Taking its cues from the realm of technological-scientific progress, one immediately discerns tropes from science fiction, specifically the specter of omnipotent control. The short film starts with a lone figure surveying a panoramic landscape before turning to address his Internet audience, tens of millions from across the world.
The benevolent overlord is Sergey B, co-founder and president of Gooble Inc. (sound familiar?); the purpose of his public address, on 28th March 2013, is to announce the launch of the revolutionary Gmind, a wearable computer activated by users’ thoughts. A small headset equipped with a minute camera and projector, it captures the wearer’s thoughts by reading EEG patterns, and projects search engine associations onto the user’s pupil. Through thought command, it can also film all that the wearer sees, to be archived and made accessible at will. Sergey B describes this innovation as the democratization of knowledge. “Within our lifetime, everyone can have tools of equal power,” he purrs soothingly.
Was Bernard Zakheim the Jewish Diego Rivera? A new exhibit, “Zakheim: The Art of Prophetic Justice,” at San Francisco’s Jazz Heritage Center and the adjacent Lush Life Gallery until December 30, celebrates the life and painting of Bernard Zakheim (1896-1985). Through panels that recount the artist’s achievements and a display of his paintings, the San Francisco show, curated by Fred Rosenbaum and Rosanna Sun, gives Zakheim the recognition and honor withheld during his lifetime for his achievements as a visionary, politically engaged Jewish muralist and sculptor.
Born into a Hasidic Warsaw family, Zakheim studied art in Poland and resisted the German occupation there before immigrating to America. After arriving in San Francisco in 1921, he co-founded a leftwing Yiddish folkschule and supported his family as a furniture designer in the city’s vibrant Fillmore district (where the current exhibit is located). The painter also founded the Artists’ and Writers’ Union with bohemian poet Kenneth Rexroth, a San Francisco friend portrayed in Zakheim’s once controversial “Coit Tower” mural.
Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
As just about everyone knows by now, the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia has opened a spanking new, $150 million facility where, say its supporters, the “American Jewish dream has been fulfilled.”
Meanwhile, the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst, Mass., has just debuted a number of imaginative and thoughtful, if small-scale, exhibitions of its own. They run the gamut from a salute to Yiddish children’s literature to “Shalom Bayes: Reflections on the American Jewish Home,” which I had the good fortune to curate.
These two institutions couldn’t be more different from one another. The National Museum of American Jewish History proudly takes its place within the urban landscape of downtown Philadelphia; the National Yiddish Book Center is nestled amidst a New England apple orchard.
In “Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand,” the Metropolitan Museum of Art pulls from its own collection to present the work of three heavyweights of American photography: Alfred Stieglitz, founder of the influential 291 gallery, and two of his protégés, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand. The show, on through April 10, 2011, gives each photographer his own room, accentuating their individual styles and obsessions, while allowing a closer look at the cross-pollination that took place in the early part of the 20th century.
A son of Jewish immigrants, Stieglitz grew up in Manhattan but spent his early adulthood soaking up European culture in Germany, the homeland of his parents. By 1900, Stieglitz was a force in American photography, and the granddaddy of the Photo-Secession, a group of artists who broke with the establishment and sought to fashion photography into an independent art form.
The Met credits Stieglitz with the foundation of its photography collection; in 1928 he donated 22 of his own works to the museum — the first to enter the collection as pieces of art. Stieglitz’s images play with ideas that are now fixtures of modern photography: subjects close at hand, a concentration on light, shadow and form, and a desire to create an emotional reaction in the viewer.
View a slideshow from ‘Stieglitz, Steichen, Strand’:
Crossposted from Haaretz
A wall is covered with images. A little girl splashes in gray-scale puddles in the street, her image fuzzy in the moving shot. Framed nearby, a baker lifts hot flat bread out of the oven. A merry-go-round with three girls in headscarves swoops past the camera lens.
Welcome to the West Bank city of Nablus, as seen through the photographic lens of children.
“Suwarna” (Our Pictures) is an exhibition of images captured by the participants of a youth photography project led by Tomorrow’s Youth Organization (TYO), a Nablus-based non-governmental organization. The exhibit has been on display in Nablus and Ramallah for the last week.
Rarely has the presence of the Divine Being been so radically affirmed by the actions of a Wired magazine columnist. Having decided that our own created universe was getting perilously close to extinction, Jargon Watch writer Jonathon Keats set up an altar designed to stimulate the Ineffable One into further acts of creation.
The title “Pornography for God” recalls his equal opportunity 2007 piece “Pornography for Plants” (also known as “Cinema Botanica”) which projects explicit images of plants being pollinated onto plants on the floor in the gallery. From November 12, both pieces will be hosted at alternative arts space Louis V E.S.P. Located on an upper floor of a walkup in Williamsburg, Louis V E.S.P. is at the perfect nexus of belief and hipsterdom.
Rather than the prurient delights of pollination, though, this new installation displays images from CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. The two LHC tunnels, Alice and Atlas, have live online graphic feeds of the experiments where they replicate the Big Bang, and these glow through a ghostly altar in front of which votive candles, incense, flowers and other objects are offered. In the tradition of pornographic exhibitions, the show is intended to excite the Creator by showing acts of creation. “I felt sorry for God,” Keats told me, “monotheism must be lonely.”
The journey to paradise is not without its optical illusions. What is enchanting can be hollow, what seems trite may be the doorway to magnificence, and what does not appear worth understanding could contain all of the answers. When engaged in an active dialogue with the world, what was an arid wasteland can become a beautiful oasis.
Such are the intellectual, cultural, and philosophical issues addressed in the eclectic works at the LABALMA PaRDeS Exhibition at New York’s 14th Street Y, which features a range of artistic media including photography, painting, video, and drawing. The exhibit is a collaboration between LABA, a Jewish house of cultural study in New York City whose central mission is to re-examine ancient texts through modern interpretation, and the Alma Home for Hebrew Culture in Tel Aviv. This past year the topic for study was pardes, or paradise, and served as the joint theme for artists in both New York City and Israel.
Crossposted from Haaretz
Eleven sculptures classified as “degenerate art” by Hitler’s Nazis more than 70 years ago went on display at Berlin’s New Museum yesterday after being unearthed at a building site in the city center. Among the surprise finds, which date from the early 20th century, are bronzes by Otto Baum, Marg Moll, Edwin Scharff, Gustav Heinrich Wolff, Naum Slutzky and Karl Knappe; remnants of ceramics by Otto Freundlich and Emy Roeder; and three unidentified sculptures.
They are just some of the 15,000 works the Nazis confiscated from museums and private collections because they were considered “degenerate” — a term Hitler’s regime used to classify most modern art. Some of this art was sold abroad, but much of it was destroyed. Two of the works discovered — Marg Moll’s sculpture entitled “Female Dancer” and Otto Freundlich’s terra-cotta “Head” were featured in the 1941 Nazi propaganda film “Venus on Trial,” in which they served as an example of the kind of “degenerate art” Jewish art dealers sold.
When the anti-immigration laws of the early 1920s effectively sealed the gates of the United States to would-be immigrants, the Jews of Eastern Europe who had arrived en masse between 1880 and 1920 could no longer hope to see their loved ones join them in America. Instead, those who could afford to traveled abroad, visiting the cities and towns they had left behind. Often, they brought with them amateur film cameras, which were increasingly popular in the 1920s, to capture the world of their childhoods.
These films are the subject of “16mm Postcards: Home Movies of American Jewish Visitors to 1930s Poland,” a new exhibition at the Yeshiva University Museum in collaboration with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, which will have its opening on Tuesday November 9 at New York’s Center for Jewish History.
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