New Perspectives on Jewish Feminist Art in the United States: Speakers & Abstracts

Helène Aylon

Artist, New York

Deconstructing God Through a Feminist Lens

Helène Aylon is a visual, conceptual, installation performance artist. She began as a process painter in the 1970s. In the 80s, Aylon drove an “Earth Ambulance” to the United Nations, stopping at nuclear sites across the country, to “rescue” the Earth into pillowcases. In the 90s, her installation “The Liberation of G-D” was featured at the Jewish, Armand Hammer, Ackland, and the Andy Warhol museums. Aylon’s work is included in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Jewish Museum, New York. She is the recipient of numerous awards and grants and in 2016 she received the Women’s Caucus for Art (WCA) Lifetime Achievement Award at a ceremony held in honor of her 85th birthday.

Matthew Baigell

Rutgers University

Jewish Religious-themed Feminist Art in the Generation Born Between c. 1930 and c.1960

The talk will be a short report on Jewish religious-themed, feminist subject matter explored since the 1970s. Emphasis will be on the different ways sources in the Hebrew Bible and Kabbalah, unimaginable before the advent of feminism and the civil liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, have been employed. Within this generation, those involved with this subject matter form a singular and unique category within the history of Jewish American art as the first Jewish-American artists both comfortable as fully assimilated Americans and insistent on retaining ties to their cultural and religious heritage.

Professor Matthew Baigell is an emeritus professor of art history, Rutgers University. He has authored, co-authored, edited, and co-edited over twenty books as well as dozens of articles on American art. For the last two decades, he has concentrated on Jewish-themed social and religious art in America. His next book, Jewish Identity in American Art: A Golden Age since the 1970s, will be published in 2020.

Paula Birnbaum

University of San Francisco

Expanding Definitions of “Jewish Feminist Art” in the Age of #MeToo

While there is a long tradition of artists representing stories from Jewish scripture that perpetrate the victimization of women, from the rape of Dinah, to that of Tamar and Lot’s Daughters, contemporary Jewish feminist artists have a distinct history of creating work about sexual harassment and violence from a secular perspective. From the performances created at Womanhouse, co-directed by Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro in Los Angeles in 1971-72, to Eve Ensler’s “V-Day,” a global activist movement to stop violence against women and girls, the work of fourth-generation feminist and queer artists coming of age just before and during the era of #MeToo responds to a specific history. This paper advocates for an intersectional perspective that problematizes the categorization of “Jewish feminist art” as a single, privileged category in an era of diverse and fluid sexual, gender, racial, ethnic and religious, identities in the social and cultural fields. To what extent are the Jewish cultural backgrounds of young secular artists who respond to themes of sexual violence relevant to their practice, and how can such distinctions be expanded upon productively through an intersectional feminist approach?

Paula Birnbaum is Professor of Art History and Academic Director of the Museum Studies Program at the University of San Francisco. She is the author of Women Artists in Interwar France: Framing Femininities (Ashgate/Routledge, 2011), and a co-edited anthology with Anna Novakov, Essays on Women’s Artistic and Cultural Contributions 1919-1939 (Edwin Mellen, 2009). A new book, Chana Orloff: A Modern Woman Sculptor of the School of Paris, is forthcoming with Brandeis University Press. Birnbaum’s publications focus on modern and contemporary art in relationship to gender and sexuality, as well as institutional and social politics in museum exhibitions. She has lectured internationally, with recent presentations at the University of Johannesburg (2018), the Galerie nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris (2017), Tel Aviv University (2017), and the 34th World Congress of Art History, Beijing (2016).

Lisa E. Bloom

UC Berkeley

Jewish “Ghosts” in Antarctica and Germany: Feminist Art Practices and Disappearing Landscapes in the work of Judit Hersko and Susan Hiller

What new type of gaze do Jewish women bring to illuminating our relationship with our environment and human-produced climate change? Landscape photography, or conceptual art and performance art about landscapes are genres that have never been seen as especially feminist or Jewish for that matter. Yet, many Jewish women are involved in making work that is about an erasure in the landscape that we are unable to perceive or bear witness to without a profound sense of dislocation. Jewish women are working the in-between spaces of this genre and are doing work that presents a different sensibility and subjectivity than what we would expect.

The talk is in honor of Susan Hiller who died on January 28, 2019. Focusing on Susan Hiller’s J-Street Project (2002) on Germany and on Judit Hersko’s “Pages from the Book of the Unknown Explorer” on Antarctica, the paper asks how can we bear witness to the radical erasure of populations through ethnic cleansing in the case of Hiller’s work, or more recently of extreme climate change? What their works have in common is that neither can be simply folded back into a conventional discussion of the landscape or politics.

Professor Lisa E. Bloom is the author of Jewish Identities in U.S. Feminist Art: Ghosts of Ethnicity. (Routledge, London, 2006), a study that addresses the unacknowledged but powerful roles of assimilation and Jewish identities in US feminist art practices. Her other books include Gender on Ice: American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions (University of Minnesota Press, 1993), the first critical book on the Arctic and Antarctic in the US written from a feminist and postcolonial perspective, and an edited anthology titled With Other Eyes: Looking at Race and Gender in Visual Culture (University of Minnesota Press,1999). She is currently a scholar-in-residence at the Beatrice Bain Center in the Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Her forthcoming book titled: Polar Aesthetics in the Anthropocene: Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis, is forthcoming by Duke University Press.

Laura Kruger

Bernard Heller Museum at the Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), New York

Jewish Women Artists: Unbound and Unbuttoned

In the last century, the status of Western women has dramatically altered. The values attributed to the women of the Hebrew Bible – piety, loyalty, resourcefulness, hope, tenacity and protection of family are no less valid at this moment than they were four thousand years ago. Changed, for women of the West, are the circumstances of independence and intellectual freedom. Women are no longer without choices or bound by the rigidity of the ancient structure of society. This change of status parallels the emergence of women assuming roles that were, hitherto only available to men. Women are firefighters, train conductors, surgeons, Rabbis and Cantors – there is no limit or restrictions on their skills. The women artists work presented in this lecture are an example of the varied styles and techniques of our times. They are thought-provoking, visionary, inclusive in their styles, metaphors, practice and subject matter.

Laura Kruger is the curator of the Bernard Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College –Jewish Institute of religion, New York. She is Vice President of ARTTABLE, a national membership group of professional women in the fine arts and serves on the Judaica Acquisitions Committee of the Jewish Museum, New York. Kruger has curated numerous museum exhibitions in the fields of contemporary craft, jewelry, artists’ books, Judaica, and contemporary art, and she contributed to multiple catalogues such as Judy Chicago/Jewish Identity and Archetype/Anonymous: Biblical Women in Contemporary Art.

Mor Presiado

Bar-Ilan University

A Seminal Feminist Holocaust Art Work – Judy Chicago’s Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light

Judy Chicago’s Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light (1985–1993) examines diverse, unconventional, and controversial aspects of the Holocaust and is known in the literature as one of the first and most significant explorations of the artist’s American-Jewish identity. In this lecture, I will focus on its feminist aspects by using a retrospective view on feminism and the Holocaust. I will compare works from the Holocaust Project to the academic study and theory on women in the Holocaust and to other feminist Holocaust art produced from the 1970s onwards. I claim that such a retrospective view reveals that the Holocaust Project is one of the earliest inclusive feminist works on the subject and to this day remains among the most innovative and profound attempts to present both the unique experience of women during the Holocaust and a radical feminist position that explains why the events of the Holocaust occurred.

Dr. Mor Presiado is a lecturer in the Department of Jewish Art at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. She teaches modern and contemporary art, feminist art, and trauma art. Presiado’s publications address Holocaust and post-Holocaust art created by women artists in Europe, Israel and United-States. Since 2018 she serves as deputy chairperson of the Association of Women’s Art and Gender study in Israel, which is affiliated with the Faculty of the Arts at Tel Aviv University.

Gail Levin

The Graduate Center, CUNY

Beyond the Pale: Jewish-American Feminists and the Pall of Eastern-Europe

The talk will trace how my own life experience led me to work in this field and how I came to recognize the common cultural matrix of so many Jewish-American feminists, especially visual artists working during the late 1960s and 1970s, several of whom I happened to know: Miriam Schapiro, Joan Semmel, Judith Bernstein, Hannah Wilke, and Joyce Kozloff. I will recount searching for cultural clues in Eastern Europe and finding some in the literature of the Haskalah movement.

Gail Levin, Distinguished Professor of Art History, American Studies, and Women’s Studies at The Graduate Center and Baruch College of the City University of New York is the acknowledged authority on the American painter Edward Hopper. She has also focused on Jewish artists —from Aaron Copland to Sonia Delaunay to feminists. She wrote biographies of Judy Chicago, Lee Krasner, and organized a book, exhibition, and website, Theresa Bernstein: A Century in Art, featuring the supercentenarian (1890-2002). Levin’s work has been recognized by grants from N.E.H., the Fulbright Association, Brandeis, Harvard and Yale Universities, among others. She is currently the Leon Levy Senior Scholar at the Center for the History of Collecting at the Frick Art Reference Library.

Mierle Laderman Ukeles


Making a Place as the Site of Transformation

Mierle Laderman Ukeles (1939) was born and grew up in Denver, Colorado. Fifty years ago, she created MANIFESTO FOR MAINTENANCE ART 1969: PROPOSAL FOR AN EXHIBITION “CARE”, a key feminist work that she calls a “sculpture that is a text”. Since 1977, she has created several artworks dealing with mikva, the ancient, though still alive, Jewish way of enacting-through-place the self’s continuing transformation between life and death and life and identity. Her works are in permanent collections of the Whitney; Guggenheim; Jewish Museum, New York; Migros Museum, Zurich; Frac Museum, Metz; Smith College Museum; and Wadsworth Athenaeum, Hartford.  She has honorary doctorates from the Maine College of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, and upcoming at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Her papers are collected by the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.  She works and lectures internationally and continues as the official unsalaried Artist in Residence at the NYC Department of Sanitation since 1977.  Currently, she is an adjunct professor at Bezalel MFA in Tel Aviv. In 2016-2017, she had a career spanning survey exhibition at the Queens Museum. She is represented by Ronald Feldman Gallery, NYC:, She received a BA degree in 1961, from Barnard College, NYC, majoring in International Relations and History, and an MA in Interrelated Arts from New York University in 1973. She is privileged to live in Israel with her husband Jack Ukeles and their whole family.

David Sperber

organizer of the conference, Yale Institute of Sacred Music

Opening Remarks

Dr. Sperber is an art historian, curator, and art critic. In 2012, he co-curated the international exhibition “Matronita: Jewish Feminist Art” at the Mishkan Le’Omanut, Museum of Art, Ein Harod in Israel. As a Postdoctoral Associate at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, his book project, entitled “Liberating Body, Earth, and God: Helène Aylon’s Jewish-Feminist Art in the United States, 1970–2017”,  explores the links between contemporary art, feminist thought and activism, and Judaism through an analysis of the social and cultural significance of Aylon’s feminist art, and the charting of a broad theoretical framework for understanding a branch of contemporary art offering a feminist critique of the Jewish world including its rituals and institutions.

Tanya Zion-Waldoks

Princeton University

Re-thinking Jewish feminism through time and space

Dr. Tanya Zion-Waldoks is a gender scholar, feminist activist and mother of four – intertwined callings. Her research interests include the intersection of religion, gender, and politics, with a focus on qualitative study of women’s social movements. Her research explores feminist political subjectivities, relations between belonging and critique, and how shifting gender politics integrate culture and law and challenge the private/public divide. She has published several articles in leading academic journals such as Gender & Society and Signs, one of which was awarded a prize by the Israeli Sociological Association. Zion-Waldoks is currently a post-doctoral visiting fellow at Princeton University’s Center for the Study of Religion, supported by the Rothschild (Yad Hanadiv) Foundation and the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). Her current project is a study of religious feminisms in Israel from an intersectional and multi-cultural perspective; including a comparative study of Jewish and Muslim feminisms with Dr. Ronit Irshai and Bana Shoughry. She is also editing a book with Dr. Ofir Abu on Israeli Visions of the Jewish World. Starting in the fall of 2019, Tanya will join the faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s School of Education.