Insights on the meaning and significance of "Prisoner a-7713," stories from install day, and more
Dear Friends and Art Lovers,
My last email was dedicated to my most recent Artivism project, Be the Change. In this update, I am focusing on the piece I created for that project and all of the symbolism embedded in the materials and the form, as well as the impact it has had already. Read on to learn more.
Thanks as always for being on this journey with me,
Prisoner a-7713: Antisemitism = Racism = Hate. Sliding Back in Time Or, Did We Actually Ever Move Forward? (2022)
Chicken wire fencing, paint, thread, yarn, wood, cement. Image: Julia Featheringill.
Location: 434 Van Ness Street, Boston, MA 02215
My contribution to Be the Change is titled “Prisoner a-7713: Antisemitism = Racism = Hate. Sliding Back in Time Or, Did We Actually Ever Move Forward?” The title references the number assigned to and tattooed on arm of Elie Wiesel when he arrived at Auschwitz. Weisel was a writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor perhaps best known for his 1960 memoir, Night, which recounts his experiences with his father in the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944-45. I look up to Elie because his voice has always distilled for me the value of a human life, which is something I hope to express through this sculpture as well.
The fencing material I used to sculpt the larger-than-life human heart is rife with metaphor. Working with this material was a true meditation on who is included and who is excluded, who is welcomed and who is turned away. It is a nod to immigration, specifically the recent images of children kept in cages at the US/Mexico border. Of course in this context, it conjures the Jewish people who were kept behind fences in the Holocaust. More than six million people from my parents’ and grandparents’ generations who were excluded, rejected, annihilated. The impact of this recent history is still deeply felt today. It is a reference I am always making.
The form, a human heart, in this work acts as a two-fold object. On the one hand, the heart is where hate resides. The harsh wire insides and the gray, liquid cement I’ve use to paint the arteries surrounding the heart represent what happens when we close off our hearts, how they become calcified with hate. And yet, the heart is also the site of love. I’ve used painted yarn and thread as the connective tissue that holds the piece together. This softer material, painted blood red, instead reference all that connects us. We all bleed the same red.
The heart sits upon a concrete base that takes the coffin-like form of a sarcophagus. This tomb is plastered with rough, cold cement, embodying a harsh grayness of brutalism. It is adorned with an array of inscriptions, each a meaningful reference to the impacts hate has on our world. On the front, I’ve included a yellow star, a reference to the stars that Jewish people were forced to wear on their arm or lapel during the Holocaust as a way of marking and dehumanizing them. This star is placed alongside several phrases meant to broaden the scope of the piece beyond antisemitism to acknowledge the dire impacts of race-based hate crimes and hate crimes inflicted upon LGBTQ+ communities. By referencing antisemitism alongside these other forms of hate, I hope to reiterate that antisemitism is a form of racism, it is an act of dehumanization. It is hate. And all forms of hate are unacceptable.
My aim through this piece is to ask the question: what happens when we flip the paradigm on hate? What if instead of closing our hearts, we radically opened them the the humanity of other people? People who may not look like us or believe in the same things, but who are people nonetheless. The light I’ve place at the center of the heart references this possibility. This hope. It points to the light inside each of us. The power inside each of us to focus our intentions on fighting hate in all its forms.
Stories from Installation Week
On August 15th, I installed the piece at 434 Van Ness Street in the Fenway. To say it was a powerful experience is an understatement. In the afternoon that I spent in the area putting the finishing touches on this piece, I was approached by countless passersby who were intrigued, inspired, or just plain curious about the work, but these two moments stand out:
This woman told me that she had been in Paris during the holocaust and had been made to wear a yellow star like the one I painted on the sculpture’s pedestal to signify her Jewish identity.
A woman approached who told me how her husband had survived Auschwitz. He had only recently passed away and we embraced as she told me about his life and all he had experienced.
Two upcoming events will focus on diving deeper into these stories and the meanings and intentions behind this work. Stay tuned and watch my Instagram account as I am planning more opportunities to collect and share stories, thoughts, and insights like these from those who take the time to stop and experience the work. Sparking these kinds of conversations truly is what it is all about.
Upcoming Be the Change Events
Inspired by the exhibition, “Philip Guston Now," join this discussion at the MFA on hate crimes, antisemitism, and racial bias focusing on how we can make change. Co-presented with the Jewish Arts Collaborative and featuring myself along with Jason Talbot (Be the Change artist), Peggy Shukur (associate regional director at the Anti-Defamation League), and Mariangely Solis Cervera(chief of equity and inclusion for the City of Boston). Moderated by Adam Strom, director of Re-Imagining Migration.
In this online discussion, I’ll join fellow Be the Change artist, Jason Talbot, along with leading experts Rabbi Menachem Creditor, and Ruth Messinger, to discuss the devastating rise in incidents of hate crimes, antisemitism, and racial bias while uncovering actionable ways to combat these human made plagues.
More Events & Activations
Each Be the Change artist has planned a series of events to activate and deepen the understanding of their project - more than I can list here! Head to the JArts website for more details on all the exciting happenings that will bring this work to life.