Provoking Memories Personal and Painful

Posted on 23 September 2011

"Past & Future In Our Hands" by Karen Gillerman-Haren

"Past & Future In Our Hands" by Karen Gillerman-Haren

By Emily J. Weitz

Art is some people’s religion, and religion is the inspiration for a great deal of art. In the current exhibit at Vered Gallery in East Hampton, the powerful intersection between these two worlds is evident. Dozens of artists from all over the world, from a wide spectrum of ages and religious backgrounds, have contributed to “A Stitch in Jewish Time, ” but one thing that all the pieces have in common is the painstaking attention to every little detail that only true passion and devotion can inspire. The exhibit takes on an additional poignancy as we approach the high holy days of Rosh Hashana this week and Yom Kippur on October 8.

Each piece tells a story, accessing a well of memory, whether it’s personal or collective memory. Because of the common thread of Judaism that weaves its way through each piece, there is a feeling of shared history in each. For example, in “Women of the Balcony I” by Jane Trigere, a German-Jewish woman is depicted in fabric. At first glance, it’s just a woman gazing into the distance in a beautiful woven cloth. But the cloth is made from the fabric of cushions of a synagogue, where women identified their seats by their personally tailored cushions. The woman stands between two tracks made of panels of these fabrics, each representing an individual. These tracks represent the railroad tracks that carried Jews to their deaths during the Holocaust. Upon careful examination, the layers in the piece reveal themselves.

“It’s all about life and death,” explains Janet Lehr, curator of the exhibit and co-owner of Vered. “This exhibit accesses the deepest emotions we have.”

It’s this depth and truth that has moved visitors to this exhibit to tears. While there’s a great deal of symbolism, there’s also a simplicity in the pieces. You can see what it’s about, and it’s about being human. You won’t find too many sharp angles or oblique references here.

In “Revealed Portraits I and II,” the photographer had just gone home to Israel to sit Shiva for her mother’s passing. There was a window in the home where she saw passers-by obscured by the glass. She started taking photos of these blurry images, and Lehr says “In this way she became my mother and your mother.”

The artist, Lili Almog, explained in a statement that “I preserve her image through the inner projection of close family members that link between roots, culture, and memory.”

It captures, in something deeply personal, something universal.

In Doug Beube’s disturbing piece, “Vest for the New World,” he displays a clear plastic vest packed tight with what looks like explosives. Upon closer inspection the viewer will see that the “explosive” canisters are actually shredded up pages of the The New World Atlas, as if asking “Is this what the new world has come to?”

Perhaps the piece that best sums up the exhibition, the piece that stops you dead in your tracks at first glance, is “Past and Future in Our Hands,” a photograph taken by Karen Gillerman-Harel. The smooth skin of a baby’s arm is clutched by the wrinkled fingers of her great-grandmother, whose arm is tattooed with the numbers she was given at Auschwitz. Beneath their entangled arms is an Israeli flag. This image was selected as the photograph for the 60th Anniversary of Israel in 2008.

“It was an expression of enormous pride for the Jewish people to have celebrated their 60th Anniversary,” says Lehr. “It hasn’t been an easy sixty years, and it will never be easy.”

While all pieces in the exhibit are for sale, selected pieces are donated by the gallery, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Sderot Teen Theater Therapy Program. In Sderot, a small town less than a mile from Gaza, rockets land every single day. Children must always know where the nearest bomb shelter is, and they spend a significant portion of their lives running and hiding. The Sderot Teen Theatre Therapy Program was developed by a professional theatre company in conjunction with a psychologist as a way for teenagers to explore the trauma they experience growing up in Sderot.

“I was lucky enough to go to a performance of the Sderot Teen Theater Therapy Program,” says Lehr. After a moving performance, she recalls, there was a Q&A. “Someone in the audience asked a young actress, ‘What do you want for your family?’” Lehr says. “And she said she wanted her children to grow up in Sderot.” Lehr believes that sums up how much this theatre program has done for these children.

As the Jewish holidays come upon us, it’s the perfect time to reflect.

“We’re talking about remembrance,” says Lehr. “About dividing the year, about new hope… This period is so tied in with memory. You visit the cemeteries, you settle up with your neighbors.”

Because of the theme of memory that comes up in each piece, Lehr says that “This time of year is most appropriate for this moving exhibition.”

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