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Pleased to be participating in the exhibition HOME(less) at HUC-JIR Museum NY. Running through the end of June 2018. Would love to hear from you if you get to see the exhibit. For details see post

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Holocaust Remembrance: Dugo Does it with Falafel

Stone on Loan I, Shlomo Feig 2008 graphite, sumi ink on paper 65 cm X 50 cm
© 2016 by Heddy Abramowitz 


International Holocaust Remembrance Day is upon us. This relatively new day in the international calendar, passed by UN resolution in 2005, falls on the day that the notorious death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by Soviet troops, January 27, 1945.

Current events seem to hurtle at me like a rain-swelled river that is rushing and pushing beyond its banks. A convergence of items drew my attention. Angela Merkel, the mama of open arms welcoming the Arab refugees with generous government giveaways came out with this statement, as reported in Times of Israel here:

“Anti-Semitism is more widespread than we imagined. And that is why we must act intensively against it,” Merkel, who on Monday will inaugurate an exhibition in Berlin titled “The Art of the Holocaust,” said in her weekly video podcast.  
Ya think? I don’t know what I find more appalling, the ignorance, feigned or otherwise, of one of the leaders of the free world to the depth of the oldest hatred, or that the leader happens to be the German Chancellor.

Merkel, is one of the more strident amongst world leaders in naming the evil that is on her doorstep. Her statement comes on the tails of the re-publication of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, a mere 70 years after the Holocaust, still within the lives of many protagonists and surviving victims. But, not to worry, now you can read the mad man’s words with annotation to fill in the context for you for the Weltanschauung that was responsible for the murder of millions, innocents, predominately Jews, in the name of a dark ideology. It sold out within hours its first day on the shelves. If these readers are as lazy about reading as I once was, those annotations will hardly be noticed, thus bringing the nefarious message of the original to new and younger audiences.

Should she really want to understand the depths of antisemitism, I suggest that she and her parliamentarians start wearing Jewish symbols. Star of David necklaces, yarmulkes, kippot, and hair coverings will be an instant way to heighten awareness, as was briefly undertaken this month by two French parliamentarians in protest of the call for Jews to cease identifying outwardly with their religion.

And less than two weeks ago, Iran, after signing the much-touted nuclear pact promoted by Obama, Kerry, and their European partners, sponsored a contest for cartoons denying the Holocaust. With a $50,000 grand prize, that is no laughing matter. Just when I think crassness has reached its limits, I am newly surprised. Oh yes, the same Iran that is the focus of a coming US policy of normalization.

I wonder whether it is just me that connects the dots. Normalization with Cuba, a poor country not yet propped up as it once was in the Cold War by the USSR is not the same as normalization with Iran, with a nuclear program in (apparent) hiatus, and huge sanction sums now released back into its economy, an active aggressor in the Middle East and exporter of terrorism worldwide. This same Iran vocally and publicly calls for the annihilation of Israel. Call me Chicken Little, but my internal red flags are waving wildly.

Among the innocents who were murdered in the Holocaust that is marked today were my maternal grandparents, my mother’s 6-year old twin sisters (never becoming old enough to become my aunts) who were murdered at the hands of the depraved Dr. Mengele as part of his ’research,’ aunts, uncles, cousins, and nameless and faceless relations now lost to memory. Those were the ones who were burned on the pyre of Aryan philosophy. Official ceremonies, wreath-laying, and museums cannot bring them back. And the evil that led to their deaths is being resuscitated. Even Angela Merkel noticed.

What about the ones who lived? It should go without saying that the brutality of those times was inhumane and beyond comprehension.

Some people became broken, some became embittered, and some very special people learned to be optimistic and loving.

My mother who survived Auschwitz was emotionally scarred for life. Yet, she lived, had a family, and rebuilt her life from nothing.

My own grandfather, Shlomo Feig. z”l, was on the same death march as Dugo in the clip below, and was killed, shot by a Nazi soldier, two days before liberation, on January 25, 1945. Above is a drawing I made in his memory from my series "Stone on Loan." I used a rubbing from a cemetery headstone in Prague to serve as a substitute head stone for him, who had no permanent resting place. That was all I could do to serve his memory.

Another way is to rejoice in life.

And so we find inspiration in a falafel stand in Ashdod. "The People of Israel Lives Is Content and Eats Falafel." So says one Dugo of Ashdod, originally Duvid of Bulgaria. This week he felt himself privileged to celebrate his survival of the most deadly of the death marches, from Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 18, 1945.

How does one celebrate a personal miracle? On the anniversary of that day last week, Dugo invited all comers to join him and eat falafel at his stand to celebrate life. In the short video clip of the occasion,  his glowing face is shown, referring to all the kids and adults as all his children, delighting in the joy of sharing his good fortune to have survived. He shows his innate humor and optimism when rolling up his sleeve to reveal not one but two tattoos on his left forearm. The story of how he got them is not shared, only joking that it was a two-for-one special. Singing “The People of Israel Lives” ("Am Yisroel Chai") and noting the correlation of the word chai, meaning life, with the number 18, which symbolizes life in Hebrew, as he marks the 18th of January as a confirmation of full stomachs, happiness, and sharing his love for his people.

Though the clip, produced and directed by Yankele Klein, is in Hebrew, it needs no translation to understand the outpouring of support and love for him from his steady clientele who joined him in dancing and singing, and, especially eating.


When I think of the headlines and news stories of the day and the foreboding I have about the future I gain comfort from people like Dugo who manage to bring optimism and appreciation to their lives, despite harsh turns, and even in light of bleak news with echoes of the bad old days.

Dugo is an inspiration. Next year in Ashdod.

This post was originally published on Times of  Israel here or:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/holocaust-remembrance-dugo-does-it-with-falafel/




Monday, January 18, 2016

Will the Real Me Stand Up? Tannhauser and Drori at Barbur Gallery


Self Portrait Crying, 120 x 85 cm oil on canvas 2015 by Nomi Tannhauser


Nomi Tannhauser and Adva Drori joined forces recently to create a two-person exhibit, Cindyrella, at Jerusalem's Barbur Gallery.

The exhibit was a sort of homage to Cindy Sherman, the influential American photographer who dressed-up as changed personae in Film Noir-influenced self-portraits shown in her exhibit Untitled Film Stills 1977-80 (the full set acquired by MOMA).

Those photographs were ground-breaking and have since become contemporary classics. As curator Pesach Slabosky noted in the exhibit catalogue: 

“It is always a woman alone: she is an ordinary person caught in a drama not of her own making. ...What I had not known was the extent to which the work of Cindy Sherman is iconic for women.”

The title Cindyrella makes reference both to the fairy tale which contrasts to the harsh reality of some childhoods, and refers to the art world idol that is an unseen presence in this exhibit. Artists from two generations, one Sherman's peer, the other decades younger, both found much to draw from her work.

Tannhauser often engages in subject matter concerning women and their bodies, the covered and the revealed, and the ways formal painting concerns (e.g. flat or with brush stokes, painting thinly or in impasto) may overlap with social issues she feels they symbolize; the strong versus the weak, men compared with women. Here she showed paintings influenced by Sherman’s photography, based on a palette of intentionally-ironic pinks, creams, and golds.

Paradoxically, Sherman herself was once a painting student, and turned to photography as her preferred medium ostensibly due to frustrations she saw in the limitations of painting, saying later 
"[T]here was nothing more to say [through painting]. I was meticulously copying other art and then I realized I could just use a camera and put my time into an idea instead.”
Tannhauser turned the tables yet again, taking her inspiration from Sherman’s conceptual still photos, and reinterpreting them as oil paintings, in a sense reverting to the medium once rejected by Sherman. No meticulous copies were shown, the works explored her own identity. She showed herself variously as an artist at work; a woman portrayed in front of a typical shikun building (brutal social architecture of the 50's) with all the windows ominously barred; as a woman capriciously holding a pencil (instead of a cigarette), set in a chair over a patterned carpet and once-ubiquitous speckled floor tiles, a stylized still portrait of her mother looking on, and so on. She let go of close observation and used a simplified graphic approach to find a pared-down and strong representation of herself, a good new direction for Tannhauser.
Kitchen Towel oil on canvas 2015 by Nomi Tannhauser Photo: Bishko

The search for the real Nomi included studies of simple kitchen towels set off against gold paint – at once glamorously raising the mundane object and also seeing it for its most basic geometric shapes, while considering the towels as emblematic of the kitchen, a room that becomes a cul-de-sac for many.

Installation view Barbur Gallery 2015-16 Photo: Bishko

Performance artist Adva Drori took the influence of Sherman off the walls entirely in her work Doll-Woman-Doll with objects culled from flea markets and other sources, making theatrical groupings set on oriental-style carpets or mattresses. These indicated a troubled inner world despite being based on playthings and toy-sized objects. They made for tableaux that dealt with an uncomfortable confusion of memory and identity. Red yarn and embroidery embellished the adult and doll-sized dresses and served as unifying color which pulled together the mostly floor-level displays.

Tannhauser’s paintings can stand on their own, and while Drori’s installations further extend the examination of girls’ and women’s places in the world, they also fought to get one’s attention in the space. A sense of emotional clutter and unease pervaded.

Exhibiting in Jerusalem gave another context to the position of women in society. One could reflect on the times Sherman drew from and from the time her photos were first exhibited, and compare them with the world the artists’ live in, replete with fears and lack of stability. Tannhauser considers the shikun building and the limited lives of the original inhabitants, poor Jewish refugees from surrounding Arab countries, but now a building in a gentrified and trendy neighborhood, a happy ending. One could widen the comparisons to close-by Arab or haredi communities, where women continue to have limited options. All is not yet rosy.

For many women, there is room to stand up and self-identify with more surety, less contrivance and posturing than Sherman’s original subjects required, allowing Tannhauser and others to "breathe," as she describes it, just knowing there are more out there like her.

Sherman’s legacy, in a sense, could be recognizing that it does not take a fairy godmother to make changes, one can grant oneself permission to change identity as needed for the many stages in a life, or just for no reason at all.

A fairy-tale ending in itself.


This was originally published on the Times of Israel here or here:

http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/will-the-real-me-stand-up-tannhauser-and-drori-at-barbur-gallery/