Visual artist Chany Wieder-Blank recently participated in the Asylum Arts International Jewish Artist Retreat, which was created as part of Schusterman Connection Points, an initiative launched by the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, a global enterprise that supports and creates innovative initiatives for the purpose of igniting the passion and unleashing the power in young people to create positive change in Jewish communities and beyond.
“The New Normal” Editor Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer interviewed Wieder-Blank about her experience at Asylum, her art, activism, Jewish identity and experience as a person living with a disability.
What was it like to be part of the Asylum Art retreat?
It was amazing being part of this community of artists… with people who work in every conceivable medium. I had never experienced a place where I met other artists who were also Jewish and some who also identified as Jewish/queer/disabled. Our conversations about being Jewish focused on what our Jewish experiences were, not one there being one authentic Jewish experience.
What was your Jewish upbringing like?
I grew up in a modern Orthodox home. We were a religious family, but my parents are both professionals and stressed the importance of secular education as well as religious education.
When did your creative expression begin?
I started writing poetry when I was six or seven and began painting around age ten. I had wonderful teachers who supported my creativity.
Has your disability impacted your work as an artist?
Because of my fine motor challenges, I developed a style of painting that focuses on expression over precision. I’ve experienced frustration as I worked on my painting style. It took me a long time to figure out my style of painting. But for me, frustration is an important part of the artistic process. It’s an indicator of challenge.
Describe the way that you are an activist.
Since college, I’ve been protesting issues that are important to me, including the environment, women’s health issues, disability and LGBTQ issues. My art also reflects my activism. For example, my Mythologies series examines stories of women who overcome oppression in the Bible.
Going back to your experience growing up in the Jewish community. I’m wondering whether you felt included or excluded?
Really excluded. In religious school and synagogue, children were not kind. Teachers were not kind to me either and treated me like I was stupid because of my disability. But the children were the worst… recess time was like “The Lord of the Flies.”
What about your connections to Jewish community now?
I am finding a place in the Jewish community now… connecting to other Jews who care about the issues that I do. Being at Asylum was a big step for me in creating Jewish community in my life.
View more of Chany’s art here.