A special event curated by Tanya Ury, with:

Helena Gold­water: And the Hairs Begin to Rise, perfor­mance
Fran Jacobsen: It’s a Mitvah, Film
Lily Markiewicz: Silence Woke Me Up Today, Video and slides
Ruth Novaczek: Let Them Eat Soup, video & Perfor­mance
Tanya Ury: Kölnisch Wasser, video/​performance

Article in programme cata­logue Femi­nale, Inter­na­tional Women’s Film Festival, Cologne (D) 1994

What does it mean to be Jewish today, and to embrace this as an iden­tity? Is it about the art of resis­tance, taking a defen­sive stand against the insti­tu­tion­al­ising effect of an ever more embracing world mono­cul­ture? Is it some­thing that can be defined by race or by reli­gion, poli­tics or culture? Is it about the geog­raphy of a desired home­land, or on the contrary, the very absence of perma­nent loca­tion? Or is it a state of mind located in the body as a legit­imised occu­pied terri­tory? These people were humil­i­ated and destroyed in the long history of Dias­pora, Pogrom and Holo­caust; it is surprising that a strong culture did survive.

What does it mean to be Jewish today, and to embrace this as an iden­tity? Is it about the art of resis­tance, taking a defen­sive stand against the insti­tu­tion­al­ising effect of an ever more embracing world mono­cul­ture? Is it some­thing that can be defined by race or by reli­gion, poli­tics or culture? Is it about the geog­raphy of a desired home­land, or on the contrary, the very absence of perma­nent loca­tion? Or is it a state of mind located in the body as a legit­imised occu­pied terri­tory? These people were humil­i­ated and destroyed in the long history of Dias­pora, Pogrom and Holo­caust; it is surprising that a strong culture did survive.

Jewish culture is often perceived as part of the domi­nant culture in main­stream film and music, in liter­a­ture, art and science etc. where the creative Jew has contributed to the culture of her/​his tempo­rary home­land at the time. And so you might say that it is a culture of assim­i­la­tion. Media percep­tion of the Jewish person has seen a reversal recently from that of sympathy for the exiled state­less victim of racial violence in Europe, to antipathy for the colo­nizing anti-hero of Israel. It is all too easy to over­sim­plify and stereo­type.

In the programme Don’t call me Erotic”, five women present five different and current inter­pre­ta­tions of what it feels like to be a Jewish woman with all the contra­dic­tions and confu­sion this entails and some­times with cele­bra­tion. The pieces are multi­fac­eted and multi-media and as inter­na­tional as the Dias­pora is nomadic although the artists all live in England. While varying widely in mood, the general approach is contem­po­rary, provoca­tive and uncom­pro­mising. In the main the artists have created work that is body and perfor­mance oriented repre­senting the need to locate the struggle for iden­tity within the person herself.

For the first time these indi­vid­u­ally prac­tising artists present work together. This allows for each a diver­sity of expres­sion within a group that builds for them a context gener­ating a visi­bility, more palpable evidence of an exis­tence. One cannot be extinct if one has never yet achieved recog­ni­tion. In England while the main­stream avant-garde has to a certain degree taken care to encourage so-called minority inter­ests, there has so far been little attempt to record the devel­oping cultural efforts of Jewish women.

In this programme the artists present work that is as much crit­ical of the constraints with which Jewish reli­gion and culture also fetters its women, as it cele­brates its heritage of imag­i­na­tive story-telling; the idio­syn­cratic mixture of reli­gious fervour expressing itself in a healthy hedo­nism, a life-affirming gesture where inti­ma­tions of mortality ever lurk in the shadows. Music and diver­sity of language as may be expected also play an impor­tant part in most of the work. What is unusual is the manner in which the women declare them­selves in terms of a strong and self-defined sexu­ality.

It must be said that the title Don’t call me Erotic”, while being appro­priate, came about as a happy misun­der­standing on the part of Laura Hudson who first brought this group of women together in her cura­tion of a special event at The London Film Makers Co-op, December 1993. She believed that she was quoting a line from Ruth Novaczek’s live art perfor­mance in which she actu­ally utters the age-old Jewish complaint: Don’t call me neurotic!” which could well be para­phrased as: I survived two-thou­sand years of exile, slavery, ghetto exis­tence etc. It’s in the blood now it’s in my uncon­scious mind and in my waking state of conscious­ness. It makes me crazy. But who are you to judge me anyway?

Tanya Ury

Presen­ta­tion

1994 Published in the programme cata­logue for the Femi­nale Women’s Film Festival, Cologne (D)

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