Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cultural Heritage Artists Project: Yona Verwer

On December 6th, the Cultural Heritage Artists Project will open its first exhibition, dedicated to the Orchard Street Synagogue. Before the exhibition opens at the John Slade Ely House in New Haven, 2Life Magazine will feature various participating artists. Each one will get three questions related to their artwork and their experience. Today we have Dutch-born, New York based Yona Verwer talking about her artwork.

Describe your artwork and its relationship to the Orchard Street Shul. How can it be positioned into a wider context of your art?
My art for the shul consists of a print series called “Temple Talismans: Orchard Street Shul Amulets”.
The Kabbalistic notion of Tikkun is the idea that the world is broken and can be fixed only by human acts. Amulets were traditionally made to be worn or placed in locations to protect & to bring good luck. Kabbalists made extensive use of amulets.
For the Orchard Street Synagogue I made three amulet prints to invoke protection and good luck. Orchard Hamsa Amulet I shows the hamsa, a traditional amulet shape, its center containing the top half of the shul's ark (Aron Kodesh): the lions, tablets, priestly hands, crown, and sefer. The five-fingered hamsa shape is echoed in the hands bestowing the priestly blessing. Orchard Fish Amulet Red & Orchard Fish Amulet Blue's main shape is the symbol for prosperity; its center is a detail of the Shul's ark. The line designs on the hamsa & fish are derived from henna tattoos, contrasting with the textural background paint..
With these works I hope to draw positive energy and protection to the shul and aid in the saving of this beautiful building, so that it can reclaim its role as New Haven’s vibrant Jewish center.
Most of my recent work features amulet imagery. My "Modern Amulets: Kabbala of Bling" series commented on the appropriation of Kabbala by pop icons. The “City Charms” amulet photographs invoke protection from acts of destruction on buildings, particularly terror-watch-list targets. I continue this theme in "Temple Talismans"; these apotropaic images aim to protect synagogues against attacks and to bring good luck. Two Manhattan synagogues, Congregation Orach Chaim and the Stanton Street Shul, have been featured so far in the Temple Talismans series; many more to follow.

How was your experience visiting New Haven and the Orchard Street Shul?
The minute I walked into the shul I felt a familiarity; as a Dutch native the architecture reminded me of the “Snoge”, the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam. By the way, the congregation there too has dwindled, most of the Sephardim having moved to Amsterdam’s suburbs or Israel.
Roz Croog, while giving us a ride from the station to the shul, had been reminiscing about her grandparents’ participation in the synagogue.
After her stories, which made the synagogue come to life, it saddened me to see the building’s disrepair.
It was exciting to meet fellow artists, exploring each other’s oeuvre, united by the commitment to help make a difference. I can’t wait to meet current and former Orchard Street congregants next time I’m in New Haven.

How important are artist networks such as the CHAP to you?
Artist networks such as the C.H.A.P. are very important to me. Creating artist communities is my passion, and it was the main impetus for founding the Jewish Art Salon (JAS) two years ago. Recently I’ve been reaching out to several Jewish art groups across the country to facilitate modeling our community building efforts; and C.H.A.P artist Maya Escobar is planning on starting a Jewish art salon herself.
It is through JAS. that I met artist Cynthia Beth Rubin, C.H.A.P.’s project director. I look forward to meeting many more C.H.A.P. artists and to future collaborations.

Curious about the exhibition? Then check out the catalog here.

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