This spring a call went out to young Jewish artists in the Boston area encouraging them to submit their work for exhibition. The invitation was the brainchild of Emily Mogavero, a founder of Moishe House Brookline and an artist herself. From more than 40 applications, Mogavero selected six other artists, all of whom happen to be women, whose work comes together in a show called “Guarding Memories/Creating Histories.” The name is inspired by a quote from Deuteronomy that exhorts one to, “Guard your soul from forgetting what your eyes have seen.”

Mogavero, who makes prints as well as mixed media paintings, told JewishBoston that “the theme came out organically from my initial call.” As Mogavero and Natalya Bernstein—who has been instrumental in helping Mogavero curate the show—gave me a tour of the gallery space, it became clear that all the pieces approach memory, family history and even world history idiosyncratically.

Related

Mogavero’s work recasts the history of art. She creates her own version of Rorschach prints in which she mimics the way modern male artists depict women. In her artist’s statement for the show, she explains: “While the paint is still wet on the unstretched canvas, I fold these reproductions and run them through the press, obscuring and changing the image. Using the press to squish my paintings is an act of iconoclasm. I act violently against the painting, destroying my quotation of the original artwork and creating a new, obscured image.”

Bernstein, who also works in mixed media, uses various materials that piece together her interpretations of biblical lore, as well as stories from her life. Her portrait of Miriam, the prophet, simply entitled “Miriam,” uses oil paint, pastels, charcoal and collage to bring a version of Miriam to life. The collage part uses Jewish texts that were once part of old prayer books and other Jewish books, giving the piece a distinctly biblical aura.

Emily Mogavero’s “Aufheben 74”
Emily Mogavero’s “Aufheben 74” (Courtesy photo)

In addition to creating art, Mogavero and Bernstein are educators. Mogavero works as an art educator at The Institute of Contemporary Art and the Museum of Fine Arts. Bernstein works at Temple Israel of Boston teaching, as well as contributes to the Riverway Project that connects young adults to Judaism and the temple.

As we walked through the installation, Mogavero stopped at a mobile of blue figures that brought to mind Degas’s dancers. The mobile, entitled “The Pursuit of the Epigram,” is the creation of Shelby Feltoon and is based on memories of her grandmother, who was a dancer. Feltoon writes that her work “draws from everyday experiences that turn into a fading memory, whether it is a museum visit, an intimate conversation or a walk past an abandoned item in the woods.”

Hannah Richman’s oil paintings of dilapidated and abandoned buildings explore how they deteriorate until they “finally illuminate nature.” Richman further notes that her work is “purposefully devoid of almost all organic matter or human representation—forcing the viewer to consider a building as a visual object.” The pictures are also elegant studies of line and composition that remind Mogavero and Bernstein of Edward Hopper’s work.

We also walked by a showcase that displayed the work of Rachel Jackson, who has mastered the art of bookbinding. Jackson’s blank books evoke her artistic interest in text itself. The absence of the printed word in these books frees Jackson and viewers to explore: “What does it mean to live with texts? How do the words around us affect us? How do texts transcend their literal meanings?”

Stacy Friedman’s “Stitched Past II”
Stacy Friedman’s “Stitched Past II” (Courtesy photo)

Stacy Friedman, who uses printmaking techniques to incorporate shadows in her work, integrates her research around her family history. Friedman purposely uses those techniques to take advantage of the medium’s ability to preserve traces of previous images, as well as to print ghost-like figures. Friedman writes, “As my family history research has intensified, my work has expanded into a wider investigation of lineage, memory and Jewish identity.”

One of the more curious pieces in the show is by Taryn Wallach, who contemplates the transience of memory through a standing lamp—a lamp that has had a prominent place in the many homes she lived in as a child. Wallach’s piece, which she calls “Grasslight,” is a cascade of light bulbs, some of the bulbs doubling as planters for growing grass. Wallach makes a point of allowing the viewer to see replanted grass, as well as dead grass. For Wallach, “The grass grows and overtakes the once functional light bulb, leaving only a sense of the undefined and the chance of a new reality.”

Mogavero and Bernstein hope this inaugural art show will become an annual event. “We have so many more artists to show,” Mogavero says, “and we want to create more opportunities to show young Jewish artists.” Bernstein is excited that the show goes beyond the boundaries of what people think Jewish art should look like. “Jewish art doesn’t have to be kitschy,” she says. Her observation is an apt description of the fresh, new art that makes up “Guarding Memories/Creating Histories.”

“Guarding Memories/Creating Histories” is on exhibit at Temple Ohabei Shalom in Brookline through Sunday, Aug. 20, with an artist talk on Wednesday, Aug. 16. Find more information here.