Portrait of the artist as a headscarf-wearing woman

2 Jun

Female artists from the religious community face innumerable barriers to joining the art world; one project in Jerusalem aims to give them a warm home and a push out of the nest.

By Tamar Rotem for Haaretz

The sailboat knitted in red wool, which appears to be chained to the hole-studded wooden board, isn’t going anywhere. Of all the images in this exhibition by members of an art collective for female artists who are also observant Jews, it is this quasi-childish work by Reut Amrani that captures the yearning for art; the moment when the red boat froze, like a warning signal in the white frame, and an artist was born. The exhibition, at the Jerusalem House of Quality, closes tomorrow.

Julia Aronson, right, at the opening of the group exhibition in Jerusalem. Tomer Appelbaum

A decade after studying art at Emunah College in Jerusalem, the 35-year-old mother of three, who lives in Beit Shemesh, spoke with emotion to Tzipi Mizrahi, the force behind the collective, about her imaginary boat. “I want to escape from everything and do art,” Amrani told Mizrahi.

It was because of the boat, Mizrahi says, that she accepted Amrani to the collective, whose Hebrew name, studio mi’shelakh, means “A Studio of Your Own.” Its aim is to provide women artists at the start of their career, and much younger than Amrani, with the opportunity to work in a communal studio; a place that is mental as well as physical, because it obligates them to devote their time and energy to creative work.

“When she came she was thirsting to be an artist again,” Mizrahi says. It was precisely that hunger that Mizrahi looked for in the artists. One can also see it in the very expressive, provocative face in the self-portrait of Julia Aronson, who studied at the Art Students League of New York and paints portraits in addition to working at a start-up.

Art study was once banned in religious schools due to the resistance to art among religious Jews that is rooted in the prohibition against making “graven images.” But around 10 years ago this wall began to crumble, mainly because rabbis came to realize that religious study is not suitable for everyone and that the therapeutic aspect of art could prevent certain students from leaving yeshiva and the world of religious observance. A few yeshivas began to offer art studies, and the trend spread to the ulpanot as well. Graduates of these tracks, especially female, began enrolling in art school.The studio’s name was Mizrahi’s idea, and as suggested by the play on Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” it points to a feminist agenda. As head of the art track in Ulpanat Tzvia in Ma’aleh Adumim, a religious girls’ high school, Mizrahi – from whose head covering not a single hair is visible – was part of the revolution in art studies within Israel’s religious education system. The Tzvia network to which the ulpana belongs is considered stricter and more insular than the state religious school system.

Read the full article here.

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