For A Human Is a Tree of The Field
This Sukkah installation was commissioned by the Vilna Shul in the fall of 2022. A Sukkah is a temporary structure in which Jews traditionally dwell during the week-long celebration of Sukkot. According to rabbinic tradition, these structures represent the huts in which the Israelites dwelt during their 40 years wandering in the desert after escaping from slavery in Egypt. By referencing this period of nomadic freedom, the Sukkah illustrates two aspects of Jewish historical experience: it is a symbol of impermanence and insecurity and a symbol of dynamic movement and progress as we prepare for the seasonal change from summer to winter.
This Sukkah captures this spirit of movement and progress by drawing from my immigration experiences, first as a child moving from South Africa to Israel and later as an adult moving from Israel to the US. The piece reflects on the meaning and impermanence of home as well as on the notion of refuge and what it means to welcome the stranger. Further, it is a meditation on what I see as my responsibility as a Jewish artist to act in a way that honors my own humanity and that of others.
This message is reflected both in the roof of the structure and in the paintings on its walls. The roof is made of tree branches twisted and tied together following the biblical commandment to allow for both the sun and the stars to remain visible. This commandment, and Tabb’s adherence to it, is rooted in the idea that being able to see the stars will help inspire us to imagine our own great potential. Tabb elaborates on the potential she sees contained in each person on the walls of the Sukkah, which are adorned with the seven species of the land of Israel: fig, pomegranate, olive, date, barley, wheat, and grapes. Kabbalist authors assigned each of these species a correlating human attribute. Tabb reminds us that we all contain each of these attributes, and our actions reflect the parts of ourselves that we allow to grow and flourish. As a tree in the metaphoric field, we can take many forms. Tabb’s Sukkah asks us each to grow reflect deeply and grow thoughtfully with intention.
Be the Change
Be the Change is a 2022-2023 art and activism initiative that is inspired by the Jewish tenet of justice and drawing from the ritualistic Jewish Tzedakah box. Taking place in Boston, Cincinnati, L.A., and online, Be the Change will help viewers connect to issues of injustice and empower them to become agents of change.
Be the Change is about making space to talk about injustice – and to give us all action steps to be agents of change in our local and global communities.
The tzedakah box (based on the root word tzedek, Hebrew for justice) is a small box in which Jews traditionally collect loose change on Shabbat and other occasions to be donated to the needy. Beyond just giving money, the goal of Be the Change is to help us all become artivists – activists through the art.
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?. It is located at 434 Van Ness Street, Boston, MA 02215. The title references the number assigned to and tattooed on Eli Wiesel’s arm when he arrived at Auschwitz. Constructed of fencing, the work takes the form of a large-scale human heart perched atop a concrete plinth and explores the devastating rise in rates of hate crimes and antisemitism. The form of the sculpture, the materials I am using, and the finishes I am adding to the platform and within the heart itself are all of deep significance, which I look forward to discussing in the two events that will correspond to the unveiling of the final sculpture.
The idea for Be the Change was spurred by a conversation I had with Ruth Messinger, former head of the American Jewish World Service. As part of my last solo exhibition, I dedicated an art piece to Ruth which I called a Justice Vessel. It was modeled after a Tzedakah Box, which are used in Jewish tradition to collect donations for those in need. Ruth shared that she had long imagined how powerful it would be to install a giant Tzedakah Box in front of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that read “Change” — a play on words for both giving and activating the giver.
With my Justice Vessels as a model and Ruth’s vision as a sign of just how powerful this project could be, I recruited the help of Laura Mandel and the astounding team at JArts Boston to help lead this project into the future. The results have been greater than my wildest dreams.
In collaboration with JArts, we were able to recruit additional public art partners in two more cities: Cincinnati and Los Angeles. Each city agreed to commission temporary public art installations by 6 artists, each focused on a social justice issue significant to them. In addition to these 18 artists (Chai, or Life in Hebrew) from 3 cities, the project has grown to include more than 30 community partners and will unfold in one big year of change. The goal is to help viewers connect to issues of injustice and empower them to become agents of change. It is about making space to talk about injustice – and to give us all real action steps to be agents of change in our local and global communities.
The Boston-based projects are officially on view in the Fenway and will be accompanied by a full program of events. Installations and activations in Cincinnati and LA will follow. I am thrilled to see this project unfold and while it has already exceeded my wildest dreams, I know that we are only just getting started.
As part of this project, I had the great honor of working closely with Laura Mandel, Executive Director of JArts, to curate the five other artists who would be commissioned to created a work of artivism. It was very important to both of us that the project leverage the Jewish tradition of tzedakah while reaching outside of the community to advance social justice issues that affect us all. I am thrilled with the all-star cohort of talented and passionate artists we assembled from all walks of life to bring attention to an array of important issues. Each artists selected a form on injustice close to their heart:
Caron Tabb [Hate Crimes & Antisemitism]
Carolyn Lewenberg [Environmental Justice]
Jason Talbot [Racial Bias in the Criminal Justice System]
Nayana Lafond [Domestic Violence]
Ngoc-Tran Vu [Mental Health, Trauma, and Healing]
Sam Mendoza Fraiman [Transgender Rights]
Part of what has made this an immensely impactful experience is that each of the artists in our cohort committed to coming together to learn as a community. Over the past several months, we have gotten together several times, often in the presence of thought leaders like Rabbi Sharon Anisfeld and Ruth Messinger, to help each other develop our projects and connect with community partners.