Life of Jewish Art

Comments and discussion about the role of Jewish visual arts in Jewish civilization.
A look at what is happening at Jewish museums and other collections of Jewish art.

Linda Stein's Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females


Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females

Tapestries and Sculpture by Linda Stein

Edited by Linda Stein; Foreword by Gloria Steinem

Review by Jenni L. Schlossman, Ph.D. 

The catalogue for the exhibition Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females, includes fourteen essays by the artist Linda Stein and others that discuss the art and activism seen in her ten tapestries depicting “Holocaust Heroes,” as well as sculptures that “address… victimization and masked self-effacement." (16)

This traveling exhibition is especially relevant because of the current political climate, where sitting at home and saying nothing about the injustices toward marginalized people in the US can be seen as being complicit in these actions.

Stein’s tapestries highlight ten Jewish and non-Jewish “Fierce Females" referencing them as "brave upstanders" declaring a distinct contrast to "bystanders" who stand by idly and do nothing "against bullying and bigotry, … persecution, sexual abuse, and harassment.” (16) Stein’s powerful tapestries are collaged images and texts about Anne Frank, Ruth Gruber, Vitka Kempner, Noor Inayat Khan, Zivia Lubetkin, Gertrud Luckner, Nadezhda Popova, Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, Hannah Senesh, and Nancy Wake.

These women contributed significantly during WWII, but other mostly male narratives have eclipsed their stories, and they need to be remembered as strong women who were not willing to be victims. Stein’s works of art bring up discussions of the "other" in our society, in order to help find solutions and actions to solve problems, and in this way, she becomes a "Brave Upstander" herself.

In the essay, “Forgotten Female Holocaust Heroes,” Eva Fogelman discusses how both men and women participated in WWII, but that it was the men who were honored for their bravery and sacrifice, while most women who participated weren't recognized. She discusses why that is the history we learn, and theorizes why the names of Jewish women in the resistance, except for a few, are forgotten. 

In the exhibition, a viewer can scan the large-scale tapestries and then focus on one at a time, while being surrounded by the auras of these brave women. In the catalogue, each hero’s story is told in an essay along with images of the tapestries. Some are personal stories, while others also provide insight into the women through historical research. Overall, these ordinary women did extraordinary things, and Stein provides their narrative in the tapestries using photographs and texts, but also contrasts the historical with figures from popular culture, her favorite being Wonder Woman.

Stein’s figurative narratives, supported by her background in abstract art, make the images especially powerful to a wide range of audiences, encouraging them to be “Upstanders” rather than bystanders in the fight to “never forget” the narratives of heroic Jewish and non-Jewish women.

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Superheroes, Autobiography & Religion

This exhibition explores the theme of the superhero in large colorful figurative paintings observed from life. My family and I pose in costume, creating densely layered portraits and genre scenes using studio props. Drawing from Figurative Expressionism and Magic Realism, 1-Joe-El JORE-EL1I tried to create a visual narrative inspired from the ranks of "heroic "painting and high culture. There is a creative mix using Renaissance and Mannerist altarpiece compositions, Egyptian Fayun portraits, Roman frescos, Judaica and early 20th Century Expressionism.  But, my real love is comics.

My goal was to revisit the medium as a serious venue for autobiographical reflection, inherent expressivity and storytelling techniques.  By creating high art representations using popular images of the superhero, I am free to explore the medium to pose authentic questions about the self, identity and the possibility of transcendence in the modern world. Can people really evolve and change? What is real and what is the assumed identity? What is the role of the hero in contemporary life?  In working, I fully equated the power and prestige of comics with that of traditional European oil painting.

The exhibitions signature series Jo-El/Jore-EL presents self-portraits in a Superman Halloween suit (Image on right). The image of Superman is examined as iconography and commentary, related historically to the advent of comics as a mass medium in the 20th Century and as the beginning of the modern individual.  The painting, House of El, 2013 presents a double portrait of the artist, one in "civilian" clothes; the other in action gear, examining the roots of the Superman character within a multi-cultural context of Jewish, Christian and Pagan visual sources.

The exhibition culminates in a 16 foot mural modeled on 1950's Cinemascope movie screens. The large narrative work entitled, Superman in Exile, 2013 depicts a somewhat pensive superhero confronting the ovens of the Holocaust with the aid of magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini. Can Superman and Houdini transcend death? Superman and other superheroes are examined in light of Jewish artists and authors during the Great Depression on the eve of the Shoah.  Jerry Siegel , Joe Schuster, Walter Benjamin and Chaim Soutine all meet on the battlefield of narrative painting; a slug-fest of epic proportions!

Information on exhibit:

Jo-El/ Jore-El

Superheroes, Autobiography & Religion

The Art of Joel Silverstein

March 23-May 16, 2014

Hadas Gallery, Rohr Center

Pratt Institute; 541 Myrtle Ave, Brooklyn, NY, 11205

Phone: 718.866.6815

Open by Appointment

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