Yehudis Barmatz conceived of the groundbreaking “Ima Iyla’a; The Art of Motherhood”, an exhibition that was part of the 2015 Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art. The sequel exhibition of “Ima Iyla’a” is shown at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
Yehudis writes about how this exhibit came to life, and its importance.
“When I was in college, a sculpture professor named Kristen Louis Campbell encouraged me to join the sculpture department. Newly married and younger than the others in the department, she believed in my ability as a sculptor, in my femininity, and in my identity as an orthodox Jew. I am ever grateful to her. In my final year, she gave birth to twins, breaking an unspoken code amongst the female professors in the fine arts department. I wrote to her about “The Art of Motherhood exhibit” I had initiated and joined as part of the curatorial team. Her answer: “You are tackling something that I think is often still so taboo in art, contemporary art anyway….. To honor the mother, the builder, the maker, the support, the one who takes down and puts back together in a manner that is not too sentimental or irritating, well done to have the courage, because it does take courage.”
I originally approached curator and doctoral candidate Nurit Sirkis Banks, herself an orthodox Jewish mother in the arts, to create an exhibition proposal on motherhood, with the intention of providing a respectful representation of materials, and issues addressed by mothers. Nurit chose instead to prove from a multi-cultural and multi gender perspective that motherhood is reverent and serves as the influential figure in everybody’s lives. She aimed to reach audiences from inside the orthodox world and from the world at large, making the motherhood presence felt in all its facets. In essence, instead of making a separate gender exhibit, the exhibit turned to address the matter at the core: Motherhood is not a topic to be ashamed of, but rather exalted in its dichotomist identity.
My own artwork seeks this integration of the female identity, between masculine and feminine, between work and play, dirt and value, disgust and beauty, satire and sincerity. The Art of Motherhood, and the team of women who organized the exhibit, empowered my work to reach out, collaborate, and go large again. In my “Where Rachel Dwells” installation, I am pushed to take ownership of the Women Identity in all her nature. An essential part of my identity as Mother is as orthodox Jew.
The Jerusalem Biennale of Contemporary Jewish Art is dedicated to the exploration of the different possibilities the intersection between Contemporary Art and Thought, tradition or experience might yield. It is a stage for professional artist to exhibit works within the framework of Contemporary Jewish Art. It is an invitation for artists, curators and art lovers to take part in the discourse about the present and future of Jewish Peoplehood. This particular Jerusalem Biennale exhibit synchronizes valuing motherhood and valuing our roots. Instead of staying in a safe realm of language, it reaches into the Jewish discourse to empower the femme. The exhibit’s name in Hebrew is the Kabbalistic term for the motherly divine, but inside, the exhibit doesn’t shy from the physical and day to day. This is a paradox that is very Jewish, and very much the Art of Motherhood.
Alana Ruben Free’s participatory performance Presence=Present, inviting participants to sit and experience the moment of being in a David Gerstein metal egg in the middle of the exhibit floor, playfully toys with this juxtaposition of Jewish concepts. It invites interpreting Divine presence as the precious everyday moments with mother that every human being integrally craves for.
Many Jewish Art Salon artists contributed to the dialogue between Jewishness and Motherhood. Works in the exhibit address ritual, rites of passage, conception, lifecycle, the day to day grime, identity, multi-cultural variety and intergenerational influence.
Ezra Landaus photography puns catch an intergenerational moment of mother pushing stroller, daughter pushing mother, striding in opposite directions, titled “Sunrise Sunset”.
With his usual wit, Ken Goldman‘s Kria shirt combines the Jewish mourning ritual of tearing clothing, and the Jewish stereotype of “mother guilt,” conveyed in the weaving of the last words his mother said before her passing: Take Care of Your Father.
Ruth Schreiber also uses ritual in her work. Her two paper stacks shaped as hands joined in blessing, gold embossed with the Priestly Blessing, are numbered for the Shabbat days she has blessed her daughter. Joan Roth also addresses the motherly role of the Shabbat rituals, in the refurbished 1985 photo of Emunah Witt, surrounded by her children, and lighting ten candles for each member of her family.
Joan Roth‘s photo “Emily at the Kotel with her Mom”, celebrates the reunion of a new immigrant Yemenite mother and her Israeli daughter.
The multicultural gaze is broadened into a multi gendered gaze by Dorit Jordan Dotan‘s full size images of parents with their children, whose faces are replaced by a mirror to reflect back the viewer.
Adding to perspectives, Gidon Levin‘s large Lambda Print army uniform ball, button in the middle, in a world of pink, expresses a moment of emotion for a teenage son in the battlefield.
Studio of Her Own artists, Lea Laukstein and Chani Zadah Cohen represent their personal yearnings, incorporating their children, as well as hinting to the missing child, in their figurative style video still and oil painting, respectively.
The exhibit composes many voices in an unabashed tribute to motherhood. I will sum up with two poems written across digital signs as part of Martha Joy Roses interactive display from Museum of Motherhood New York:
My mother is a rose, all color stripped away,
My mother is a dying rose.
One day she will bloom again.
– Nancy Gerber.
May you be happy?
May you be healthy?
May you be safe?
May you live with ease?
(Buddhist chant) – Marjorie Tresser.
The greatest moment for me, was when a Hassidic women, and mother of ten, approached me at the opening. Thank you, she said, for giving a voice to motherhood. This is a significant statement to hear inside my orthodox community, but is just as meaningful in reclaiming Ethnic and Feminist Art in the art world.”
– Yehudis Barmatz, Israel
Alana Ruben Free & David Gerstein \ Ayelet Lerer Shaki & Cheftziba Shrem \ Chani Cohen Zada \ Chaya Alice Shlomo \ Chaya Wirtzberger \ David Baruch Wolk \ Doni Silver Simons \ Dorit Jordan Dotan \ Einat Ganz \ Ezra Landau \ Gidon Levin \ Hadassah Berry \ Joan Roth \ Judith Margolis \ Ken Goldman \ Lea Laukstein \ Ma’ayan \ Martha Joy Rose \ Maya Zack \ Michal Vartash \ Rivkah Zinman & Chaya Mushka Ross \ Ruth Ermossa \ Ruth Schreiber \ Shazarachel \ Sigal Maor \ Yehudis Barmatz \ Zehava Ashuri
Names in bold are Jewish Art Salon artists.