With apologies to Nathan Englander, what should we look at when we look at Anne Frank? Faith & Form, the new exhibit at The Anne Frank Center USA provides some answers. Aligned with the Center’s mission of using the diary and spirit of Anne Frank as tools to educate about the dangers of racism, anti-Semitism and discrimination, the exhibit features multi-media work by 21 artists, all members of the Jewish Art Salon, addressing those issues in a range of styles and expression.
Interestingly, several of the artists took the Golem, a figurative symbol of resistance to anti-Semitism, as a starting point. Mark Podwal, who has long been intimately involved with the Alte-Neue Shul (Old-New Synagogue) in Prague, the legendary birth/resting place of the Golem, submitted a sketch from his illustrated book on that subject. Podwal’s Golem is a monolithic, mindless creature who destroys as well as protects, crushing cities underfoot while saving his chosen people from harm. Ash Fitzgerald takes a different and more personal tack in his approach. In “Passing Through (A Golem’s Journey),” Fitzgerald departs from the story and uses the image and the myth to explore his own awakening from a near-death experience.
Not surprisingly, the Holocaust is the basis of many of the works; interestingly, about one third of the artists used collage to portray the horrors of the war and its aftermath. Deborah Rolnik Raichman’s “Yizkor,” is a Cornell-like boxed assemblage with tefillin bands connecting disparate elements into a moving funerary tribute to her murdered grandfather. “Krakow Windows,” a series of light boxes by Gillian Singer, uses photos past and present to create a singular yahrzeit candle of remembrance. Other pieces include Aaron Morgan’s macabre death map in “My Mother’s from Bialystok, my Father from Lodz,” and Michal Mitak Mahgerefteh’s “Faces in the Clouds,” inspired by works of Holocaust poetry.
In “Waiting for an Unknown Destination,” Lorelei and Alex Gruss, best known for their handcrafted Torah arks and synagogue furniture, have created an artful piece made of inlaid woods in which the valise is the central and heartrending motif. “Damned Haman,” by Dorit Jordan Dotan, juxtaposes a cheerful class photograph of her mother in Pre-War Vienna superimposed by the looted Jewish objects for sale in Vienna today.
The power of words is the subject of a number of pieces. Using the Purim story as foundation, Arlene Sokolow portrays the dilemma and necessity of speaking out against anti-Semitism in “Esther, Walking the Tightrope, Speaks…” while Rivka Nehorai looks at the power of false words in modern-day Persia in “The Iranian President.” Tackling a similar subject in a very different way is “Chaim” by Robin Atlas, an embroidered sampler inveighing against lashon hara (evil gossip) with the Chofetz Chaim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan), the seminal author on the subject, as the centerpiece.
Other notable works address a range of ideas. Yona Verwer’s “Stanton Street Shul Amulet” addresses the post9/11 sense of vulnerability but maintains a sense of optimism in America’s welcome while Carol Philips creates her own amulet in “Tiny Prayerbook.” A group of works including Lynn Russell’s “Labels” and several photographs detailing the life of the Jewish “other” confront racial stereotyping and perceptions both within the Jewish community and without.
When I walked into the gallery, I was expecting to view works that connected directly to Anne Frank, her diaries and her legacy, but clearly that wasn’t the case. The only connector between the artists’ works is the Jewishness that is at their core. And perhaps that is the answer to what we should look at when we look at Anne Frank.
“Faith & Form” is on view through March 28, 2014, Tuesday-Saturday, 10-5 at The Anne Frank Center USA, 44 Park Place, New York, 212 431.7993. On February 4th at 6:30, artist Mark Podwal and novelist Thane Rosenbaum will present a program exploring representations of the golem legend in words and images.
Gloria Kestenbaum is a corporate communications consultant and freelance writer.