|Building the Sukkah, photograph, Yael Danino|
I recently curated an exhibit in honor of International Women's Day at the American Center in Jerusalem. The invitation is posted here.
Sharing my text and a few of the varied works from the exhibit.
Women’s Work – Heddy Abramowitz, Curator
There's only one thing in life for a woman; it's to be a mother... A woman artist must be... capable of making primary sacrifices. – Mary Cassatt, 1844-1926.
When I was in my studio I didn't give a damn what sex I was... I thought art is art. – Alice Neel, 1900-1984.
Excellence has no sex. – Eva Hesse, 1936-1970.
Do I even think about myself as a woman when I go to make art? Of course not. – Judy Chicago, born 1939.
A creator requires much time and space to pursue her muse – to think, try, make, discard, try and fail, try better, until the results satisfy. Can the creating person be true to her art if she is also responsible to other compelling calls on her time, spirit, thoughts, and abilities? This exhibit, through the eyes and hands of these 19 contemporary artists, responds.
A previous exhibit was the kernel from which Women’s Work grew. Amphi-bion was the inaugural exhibit at the Studio of Her Own’s gallery space (A group promoting professional Jewish religious women artists. Full disclosure: I serve voluntarily on the Advisory Board). It explored multiple, often competing, facets of women as creators, with a curatorial team including Julia Aronson, Yael Buchbinder-Shimoni, Noga Greenberg, Avigail Fried, and Batnadiv HaKarmi, who served as co-curator for this exhibit.
|Herzl Says mixed media 2013 by Avigail Fried|
I grew up in the US during the social revolutions of the 60s and 70s. American rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” stood in sharp contrast to populations which lived less-entitled lives. That “all men are created equal” rang hollow to women, long after the Suffragettes won the right to vote.
The quiet rustlings of coming change came in the form of a question for women after 1945: After seeing battle, nursing soldiers, running factories, doing serious research and working in non-‘womanly’ pursuits, could women happily go back to living barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen, as the rankling phrase goes?
Jean Baker Miller (1927-2006, American psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, editor, teacher, and author) said in her classic work Toward a New Psychology of Women, 1976:
“Most so-called women's work is not recognized as real activity. One reason for this attitude may be that such work is usually associated with helping others' development, rather than with self-enhancement or self-employment.”Was it any wonder the rustlings became a storm?
|Spouse mixed media assemblage, Elinora Schwartz|
By my generation, the storm rumblings of what women could or could not do were already gale force. Shortly after my childhood ― replete with memories of wearing short white gloves, riding in the front while Negroes, in the parlance of the day, sat in the back of Washington, D.C. public trams and buses, and women worked in a narrow range of acceptable ‘helping’ fields ― the skies broke. By dint of hard work and by demanding change, the ‘firsts’ were achieved. Women’s work options widened and we got on the playing field, however uneven.
Women artist activists struggled to be seen in a macho art world. In 1987, the National Museum of Women in the Arts was established in Washington, D.C., giving a stage for women creators, and its existence was followed by other institutions cracking open the door to women.
Jewish women traditionally take on religious responsibility from the age of 12, and as young women they are expected to soon take on roles as wives and mothers.
The term, מעשה כפיה (ma’aseh capeya), work of her hands, is a phrase from The Woman of Valor, sung at the Shabbat evening meal in many traditional Jewish homes,
“She considers a field and buys it; from the fruit of her handiwork she plants a vineyard. She girds her loins with might and strengthens her arms”
– A Woman of Valor, Proverbs 31.
We glean that women’s creativity was valued in Jewish tradition, if it was to help the family. Encouraging creativity for her personal fulfillment? Not so much.
As seen in the above quotes by famous American women artists, perspective shifts with each generation.
Though women artists “have come a long way, baby” since the Virginia Slims ad was popular, the religious woman artist in Israel faces a steep climb in a largely secular art world.
In Women’s Work, we see the artist facing her practical limitations with eyes wide open. We see the artist as sexual being, the artist facing her biological clock, the artist in her primal role of life-giver, the artist qua mother, the artist as caretaker, the creator, the artist caught in a cul-de-sac of domesticity. Each reflects both a universal look at women in society and her personal take as each artist grapples with her challenges.
Some of the artists include a nod to the global economy in their works, including American-made products as a seamless part of their world. Some of the artists use traditional needle works in a contemporary twist, elevating women’s crafts to a higher level of expression. Instead of facing the children or art question as an either/or decision, we see women who work their passion alongside familial and economic responsibilities ― not as an obstacle ― but as an integral given.
Women’s Work is the ‘work of our hands’ in its narrow sense, but also the work of our minds and our souls.
I've got the children to tend
The clothes to mend
The floor to mop
The food to shop
Then the chicken to fry
The baby to dry
I got company to feed
The garden to weed
I've got shirts to press
The tots to dress
The can to be cut
I gotta clean up this hut
Then see about the sick
And the cotton to pick.
Shine on me, sunshine
Rain on me, rain
Fall softly, dewdrops
And cool my brow again.
Storm, blow me from here
With your fiercest wind
Let me float across the sky
'Til I can rest again.
Fall gently, snowflakes
Cover me with white
Cold icy kisses and
Let me rest tonight.
Sun, rain, curving sky
Mountain, oceans, leaf and stone
Star shine, moon glow
You're all that I can call my own.