Does a Jewish Art exist?
In my opinion, the definition of "Jewish Art" occupies nowadays not only an artist and a thinker but many of the Jewish communities in the Diaspora, that must face the problem of auto-definition.
Usually it is no a major problem to identify a work to a certain cultural group.
No doubt that a French author, writing what he may, by writing in French and from his "national" experience, it is part of what is called "French culture/French art; likewise, the so-called "religious art" -although being international- does not present a problem of characterization. In this case the definition arises from criteria solely thematic.
The Jewish artistic and cultural production, on the other hand, is not easily categorize.
The paradox of the subject resides in the centrality of the questioning.
It is important to keep in mind that the Jewish artistic production does not exist in purely Jewish terms, specially when relates to a Jew in the Diaspora.
In most cases, he not only identifies with the cultural Jewish tradition where he comes from, but sees himself as an integral part of the national context that surrounds him.
As shown before, it is not just an intelectual game. The cultural production is one of the essential elements in configuring an identity (national, religious, communitarian, etc), is one of the expresions that allows distinguishing one group form another, one culture from another and from this its importance for the Jewish people.
The history of Jewish art
The history of Jewish art as well as the history of religion, people and Jewish traditions, involve mant places and periods.
Since the Diaspora, Jews always lived in the civilization of others people. Thanks to a mixture of biblical laws, Talmud instructions and constant evolution of points o view of Rabinical authorities, Judaism always incorporated influences from the societies where they lived.
Sephardic Jews develop traditions different to its contemporary Ashkenazies of Eastern Europe and we are all Jews. In the same manner, Jews bring to their art the same diverse cultural influences. The forced migration produced an impressive variety of artistic manifestations. Unfortunately, persecution and dispersion through history resulted in loss of many works. Much of what is left is found in decorations and ceremonial objects.
My search as a Jewish artist starts with the analysis of the second Commandmen.
The second Commandment reads in part. "Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness". This commandment would suggest that Jews should not produce art of any sort. Opinions in this respect has changed over the centuries. Until this century, it was believed that Jews did not represent the human figure up until the Middle Ages.
Although in 1930 murals were discovered in the "Dura Europos" synagogue of the III century in Syria that dispelled that belief and gave new credence to the concept of Jewish art. These murals show scenes from the Bible in human figures. And include a representation of the hand of D's, that could be the start of the tradition of using hands for protection by the Sephardic Jews. Close to the Middle Ages, it was common to illustrate manuscripts like Hagadot for Pesaj, Ketubot (matrimonial contracts) and even the Bible.
In some cases, human heads were replaced by heads of animals, specially birds .
About my Work
It is said that the work of a painter is the light of his soul. As a Jewish painter, my Neshamah (soul in Hebrew) could not but reflect the light of so many teachings about life and Jewish traditions learnt from my parents and Jewish studies. My works are the result of analysis and permanent investigations on themes of Hebrew symbology and kabalistic concepts from where emerge images of the fabric of signs and symbols contained in a web of personal narrations.
The process of creation
After reflecting and investigating each theme, I start the search of materials I could use for my work.
Fabrics, specially transparent and laces, give me sensation of antique, of history as well as give transparency and connotation of lightness. Because of this, I generally apply this type of material to the upper part of the composition, leaving an area on the picture where the eye of the observer can find an area of rest as well as rich in textures. On the rest of the work, I would use papers of different textures and specially Israeli periodicals in Hebrew, giving an interesting texture and also a conceptual element.
Finally, in my compositions appear important symbols that identify the Jewish culture and at the same time identify me at my most intimate, such as: The city of Jerusalem, The glass of wine, The Challah, The violin, Talit, Hamza, The Jewish wedding, among others.
It could be said that these plastic constructions are self-portraits, not because they represent morphologicly my physical characteristic, but because the images created speak of my person in a profund and intimate sense, of my Neshamah.
JANET ZALCBERG (Curator)
Phone: 305 274 3849, Miami, Florida, USA.
e-mail: zalcberg @bellsouth.net
To contact BERNARD KORZENIAK write to:
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