To Forgive and Remember: Reshaping Contemporary Consciousness
Text by Susan Chevlowe, Chief Curator and Museum Director
Planned to coincide with the Jewish High Holidays, To Forgive and Remember: Reshaping Contemporary Consciousness addresses the historical and present impact of judgment, forgiveness, oneness and remembrance on individuals and communities through the lens of contemporary art. The artists’ explorations of these themes evoke personal and distant histories, and what they reveal occupies a place at an intersection between the two. Communities and cultures are distinct and have their unique characteristics, yet these processes and values echo across the experiences of individuals and groups. They allow for reconciliation and repair and keep both individuals and societies moving forward.
The exhibition went on view on the eve of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah), which is followed ten days later by the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur)—observances that focus on repentance and regret, followed by forgiveness and renewal. As Rabbi Jan R. Urbach has written:
Teshuvah is a kind of creativity. As a creative act, it is not a simple return. Teshuvah is a return forward, a return to something that never was, a return to a new creation. We return to who we have always been, and are meant to be, but have not yet become. We return to growth and possibility that have lain dormant within us and not yet flourished, much as sculpture lies hidden within a brute block of stone. That is the sense in which teshuvah is a creative act.*
The connection of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to creativity is profound. As Rabbi Urbach explains, the New Year is associated with the creation of the world, and the idea of repentance (teshuvah) with the re-creation of the self. The exhibition consists of 15 works by nine artists in a range of media, including painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, collage, silkscreen and linoleum printing, textile and assemblage. Using photography, artists Aileen Bassis and Dennis Red-Moon Darkeem create autobiographical works informed by their childhoods in the Bronx; Robert Kirschbaum and Elyssa Wortzman approach the biblical story of the Sacrifice of Isaac, part of the New Year liturgy, through the medium of abstraction; both Alexis Mendoza and Ken Goldman evoke Dada and Surrealism in their curious juxtapositions of objects and materials; Joyce Ellen Weinstein’s print and Anne Kantor Kellett’s sculpture draw inspiration from their experiences in Lithuania and Rwanda, respectively; Laurie Wohl’s textile, embroidered in Hebrew, Arabic and Greek, evokes a hope for reconciliation and oneness.
In her series Stories End, 2012, Aileen Bassis has created virtual altered books using images she made from a real book, Jewish Fairy Tales and Legends. She digitally altered, combined and re-photographed images of the book and her own photographs of former Bronx synagogues. Today, these former synagogues have been transformed into churches, secular community centers or have been abandoned. The series pays homage to her childhood in the South Bronx, using the book that she re-discovered when emptying her parents’ apartment. It had been a gift to her brother from their Temple Sisterhood.
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem’s Star of the RedMoon, 2014, is an autobiographical work infused with cultural memory created from photographs and designed into a Native American Indian star quilt pattern. It is representative of the traditional patch-work of many Native tribes in the Southeastern United States, who used old scraps of European fabrics to create blankets and clothing. According to Darkeem: “Patchwork tells a story through colors, images and placement. This work tells the story of my birth, for example, my birth stone, a diamond, buildings representing my growing up in the city and the grass dance—the style of dance I grew up learning as a child.”
Ken Goldman’s plastic, 3D-printed Selichot–Schulklopfer–iPhone dock, 2015, updates the traditional wooden synagogue knocker or schulklopfer. Schulklopfer refers both to a specific type of wooden hammer and to the individual in the community who banged on doors to wake congregants in Ashkenazi communities (and sometimes in Sephardi ones) in time for the early morning prayers of forgiveness (Selichot) said leading up to the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement. The shape of the wooden hammer rep-resented a ram’s horn instrument (shofar) blown as part of the synagogue services. Down-loaded with a shofar app, an iPhone is set and placed in the dock. One is then awakened to the sound of the shofar blasts resonating through the ram’s horn-shaped speaker.
Anne Kantor Kellett says that being a daughter of Holocaust survivors influenced the creation of her sculpture, Gloibn, 2012, whose title means “believe” in Yiddish. As she explains: “The negative space beneath Gloibn’s chin is integral to the piece. It gives the feeling of being suspended, defying gravity, and therefore speaks to faith and inner strength.” She continues, “her right eye appears gouged out, but represents inward reflection. It’s about justice and what is seen and cannot be seen. The back of her head reveals points of vulnerability, which recur in my work. At once strong and broken. Her scars are rooted in nature, which always triumphs.”
Kantor Kellett’s other work in the exhibition, Rachmones, 2011, meaning to have mercy, compassion or empathy, was inspired by her work with survivors of genocide in Rwanda. She explains: “It has a proud air but is contemplative and pensive. Rwanda’s justice system includes Gacaca, which is a system by which people who committed genocide are judged by their community members before they can reenter society. Judgment and the question of ‘forgiveness’ loom in this piece. The top of the head is open to receive, judge and to let go.”
Part of a larger group of drawings, Robert Kirschbaum’s three works on view from the series Akedah, 2008–2009, belong to an abstract narrative of the Sacrifice, or Binding, of Isaac. According to the artist: “For more than thirty years, my art has been a means for me to reconcile the existence of tangible sanctified architectural elements in the home and in the synagogue with the broader significance of the Temple, its destruction and its mythic re-creation. Recognizing that this work of architecture is the single most potent image in a religion that eschews representation, I have undertaken to explore the symbol of the Temple within strictures imposed by the second commandment.” Awareness of the centrality of exile to the Jewish experience has led Kirschbaum to internalize the ideal of return and the miracle of redemption. His richly and vigorously drawn, yet precise, geometric and architectonic forms, evoke both the encounter with the divine and the destruction and mythic recreation of the Temple—the historic site of ancient altars.
Alexis Mendoza’s Untitled, 2015, is from his recent series of works, Time and Place, in which vintage or antique furniture symbolizes a living past, with the acceptance of pain, as, for example, in the case of this work, where pain is represented by the steel nails that have been hammered, their points down, into the surface of a found wood bench from the 1940s. Works from the series embody the notion that one must go on: forgive and forget. As personal possessions that their owners have lived with for a long time, furniture has the ability to tell stories on multiple levels. Individual chairs or benches are also places to sit to listen to and share stories, and, ironically, one can sit on the flat heads of the nails and remain unharmed; perhaps the pain here is bearable if only one gives the other a chance to share it. According to the artist: “The strength of the nails on the wood and the sensibility of the bench or chair, etc., create a situation that does not exclude the spectator . . . inviting me to activate their visual and emotional perception. . . . my artworks bring the viewer to a place of hope, rhythm, remembrance or surprise.”
Joyce Ellen Weinstein’s silkscreen and linoleum print, Blind Leading the Blind with Yellow Cross, n.d., grew out of time spent in Vilnius, Lithuania, during an artist’s residency at Europos Parkas Open Air Museum of the Center of Europe. While in Vilnius, she observed and photographed employees from a local furniture factory practicing trust and bonding exercises. Viewed afterward, the images suggested to her mysterious, even ominous, goings on that lent themselves to reinterpretation in a series of prints entitled The Blind Leading the Blind. According to Weinstein: “Some people were blindfolded and others walked on tight ropes attached high up on the trees. I took many photographs documenting this activity. Later, when I looked at the photos, I found the imagery very startling, intriguing, mysterious and ominous, lending them to interpretations related to the human condition.”
Laurie Wohl’s Will There Yet Come? A Grain of Hope, 2015, a textile with a spiritual narrative, alluding to the form of a traditional Jewish prayer shawl (tallit), incorporates a question posed by Israeli poet Leah Goldberg: “Will there yet come days of forgiveness and grace?” According to Wohl, building on texts from Micah, Psalms and Peter, “the piece signals the longing for reconciliation and oneness in the three Abrahamic religions found in the poetry of Israeli poets Leah Goldberg and Yehudah Amichai, the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and the Israeli Druze poet Samih al-Qasim.”
The texts are in Hebrew, Arabic and Greek. The translations are as follows:
Amichai: “Amen and amen, so may it be his will.” “a stone of amen and love. Amen and Amen, and may it come to pass.” “From the place where we are right/Flowers will never grow/In the spring.”
Darwish: “Salaam is two enemies longing, each separately, to yawn on boredom’s sidewalk.”
Al Qasim: “There’s enough room for both of us in the field.” Micah 4:4: “every man shall sit under his fig tree and none shall make him afraid.” 1 Peter 3:11 (Ps. 34:14): “Seek peace and pursue it.”
According to Elyssa Wortzman, her painting, Sacrifice, 2012, represents the ritual of animal sacrifice shrouded in an ascending cloud of mysterious smoke that both covers and reveals. The story of the traditional sacrifice ritual of the Akedah, or Binding of Isaac (Genesis 22: 1–19), in which Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, is read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. Wortzman hopes that by obscuring the event itself, and instead providing an archetypal, emotional and psychological offering, the viewer may project her individual sacrifices and offerings into the work.
Born in New York City in 1949, and now living and working in New Jersey, Aileen Bassis creates work in book arts, printmaking, installation and digital photography, and is a published poet. She received a fellowship in photography from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a grant from the Puffin Foundation, and her work is in the collections of Dartmouth and Wellesley College and Newark Public Library. http://www.aileenbassis.com
A New York-based artist, who was born in the Bronx in 1982, Dennis RedMoon Darkeem’s work focuses on the fragmentation and manipulation of structure and surface, while exploring the shape-shifting force of popular culture in our lives. He received his BFA and MFA from Pratt Institute and has participated in exhibitions and programs at the International Center of Photography, The Laundromat Project, MoMA PS1 and The Bronx Museum of the Arts. Darkeem lives and works in the Bronx. http://dennisredmoondarkeem.weebly.com
As an observant Jew and artist, Ken Goldman, who was born in Memphis, TN, in 1960, feels he has the privilege and challenge of creating art from within. While at times seemingly irreverent, his works are inspired by and react to Jewish traditions and texts. His mixed media works have been shown in Israel, Europe and the United States. He will have a solo exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art in fall 2015. Goldman lives and works on Kibbutz Shluchot in Israel. http://www.kengoldmanart.com
Anne Kantor Kellett was born in Brooklyn in 1949 and attended the High School of Music and Art. She is a graduate of Fordham University and the National Academy School of Fine Arts, and also studied at the Art Students League and the International Center for Photography, and was the recipient of a Newington-Cropsey Foundation Fellowship of sculpture. She lives and works in Bucks County, PA. http://www.kantorkellett.com
In his art, Robert Kirschbaum explores Judaic concepts of sacred space derived from ancient Jewish art as well as early Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. Kirschbaum, who was born in New York City in 1949, received his MFA degree from Yale University in 1974, undergraduate degrees from the University of Rochester and the Boston Museum School, and is currently Professor of Fine Arts at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. http://www.artspacenh.org/artists/RobertKirschbaum
Alexis Mendoza is an artist, writer and independent curator. He has exhibited his artworks in museums and galleries in countries around the world, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, England, France, Germany, Mexico, Netherlands, Peru, Romania, Spain, Switzerland and the United States. He is co-founder and co-creator of the Bronx Latin American Art Biennial and a founding member of BxArts Factory. Mendoza was born in Havana City, Cuba, in 1972, and lives and works in the Bronx. http://artcurated.blogspot.com
Joyce Ellen Weinstein, who was born in New York City in 1940, is in permanent and private collections in the United States and Europe. Her artwork appears in Fixing the World: Jewish American Artists of the Twentieth Century (New England University Press) and The Book as Art (National Museum of Women in the Arts). She was named a Fulbright Senior Specialist candidate, and three- time finalist and one-time winner of the Metro DC Dance Award for scenic design. She lives and works in Manhattan. http://www.joyceellenweinstein.com
Laurie Wohl, who was born in Washington, D.C., in 1942, is an internationally-known fiber artist. Her Unweavings® have been widely exhibited and are held in the collections of the Museum of Arts and Design, American Bible Society, Constitutional Court of South Africa, Catholic Theological Union and numerous other public and private collections, and have been on long-term loan to United States Embassies in Beirut, Vienna, Tunis, Cape Town and Pretoria. She lives and works in Manhattan. http://www.lauriewohl.com
Elyssa Wortzman, an artist, educator, Jewish Spiritual Director and developer of award-winning Jewish cultural programs, is completing her D.M in. in youth mindfulness through the arts at the Graduate Theological Foundation. Wortzman is a Fellow of the Jewish Art Salon, New York, and has two current exhibitions in San Francisco. She was among the first participants in Art Kibbutz’s “The Jewish Waltz with Planet Earth” artist residency. Wortzman was born in Toronto, in 1970, and lives and works in San Francisco. http://www.elyssawortzman.com
*Rabbi Jan R. Urbach, “Teshuvah—A Creative Process,” in Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, ed., Rosh Hashanah Readings: Inspiration, Information, Contemplation (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2006): 5-6.
Works in the Exhibition
All works courtesy of the artists
Peace, from the series Stories End, 2012
Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in.
Vanished, from the series Stories End, 2012
Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in.
Magic, from the series Stories End, 2012
Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in.
Happiness, from the series Stories End, 2012
Archival inkjet print, 16 x 16 in.
Dennis RedMoon Darkeem
Star of the RedMoon, 2014
Collage on board with made fabric framed, 36 x 47 in.
Selichot–Schulklopfer–iPhone dock, 2015
Plastic: 3D printed, 9 1/8 x 4 1/4 x 1 3/8 in.
Anne Kantor Kellett
Hydrocal, pewter patina, 20 x 10 x 14 in.
Plaster, bronze patina, 24 x 8 x 10 in.
Akedah Series #40, 2008–2009
Mixed media on paper, 9 x 8 in.
Akedah Series #46, 2008–2009
Mixed media on paper, 9 x 8 in.
Akedah Series #48, 2009–2009
Mixed media on paper, 9 x 8 in.
Untitled, from the series, Time and Place, 2015
1945 wood bench and steel nails, 29 x 41 x 22 in.
Joyce Ellen Weinstein
Blind Leading the Blind with Yellow Cross, n.d.
Silkscreen and linoleum block print, 30 x 30 in.
Will There Yet Come? A Grain of Hope, 2015
Unweaving® fiber art, 35 x 43 in.
Acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 40 x 40 in.
This text originally appeared in the brochure produced in conjunction with the exhibition To Forgive and Remember: Reshaping Contemporary Consciousness on view in the Derfner Judaica Museum from September 10, 2015–January 3, 2016.
As a member of the American Alliance of Museums, Hebrew Home at Riverdale by RiverSpring Health is committed to publicly exhibiting its art collection throughout its 32-acre campus, including the Derfner Judaica Museum and a sculpture garden overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades. Derfner Judaica Museum + The Art Collection provide educational and cultural programming for all visitors, including residents of the Hebrew Home, their families and the general public, who come from throughout New York City, its surrounding suburbs and elsewhere. RiverSpring Health is a nonprofit, non-sectarian geriatric organization serving more than 13,000 older adults through its resources and community service programs. Museum hours: Sunday–Thursday, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Art Collection and exhibitions open daily, 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Call 718 581.1596 for holiday hours or to schedule group tours, or for further information visit our website at http://www.riverspringhealth.org/art
Hebrew Home at Riverdale
5901 Palisade Avenue
Riverdale, New York 10471
This exhibition is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.