(Yeshiva University Museum, New York) "It’s all in the nose,” said graphic novelist Ariel Schrag, reacting humorously to ARTnews Executive Editor and moderator Robin Cembalest’s question about whether Jewish women artists are more confessional than men. “The nose makes you want to confess.”
It’s a great quip from Schrag, whose interactive reading of an excerpt from her piece, The Chosen (2008), deals with a visit from Joseph -- a Hasidic real estate broker who has come to inspect her apartment. He spies her menorah and her holiday card and asks: “Are you Jewish?” Schrag, whose mother is not Jewish, technically making her a non-Jew, responds: “I liked Joseph. And I wanted him to like me, so I answered: 'Yes.'” Immediately, she feels guilty and paranoid. The piece is funny and serious, and its dramatic effect is powerful.
Schrag joined Miriam Katin, Lauren Weinstein, and Miss Lasko-Gross at a Yeshiva University Museum (YUM) panel, Close and Personal -- a public event accompanying the exhibit, "Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women," which opened in late September and will be up until April 15, 2012.
The exhibit features the work of 18 Jewish women, including 1970s and 1980s pioneers Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Diane Noomin, who founded “Twisted Sisters,” as well as younger artists. Co-curated by Michael Kaminer -- a New York journalist and collector -- and Sarah Lightman -- an award-winning artist, curator, and arts journalist -- the exhibit first traveled to San Francisco and Toronto. After its New York City run, it will move on to Portland, Ann Arbor, and Vancouver.
The New York exhibit was adapted by Zachary Paul Levine, an Assistant Curator at YUM who added six videos to the show, where the artists actually read, perform, and offer commentary about their work. “It was very important to let people see and hear these artists -- to understand how they use pictures and art to tell their very personal stories,” he said.
Levine explained that women had been excluded from past exhibits and that they have now gone from being “outsiders to being insiders.” “What do we see of the Jewish experience in this room — a lot about being first, second, third generation Jewish, a lot about intermarriage, about Israel, about the way Jews speak to each other, about the body... It’s all very open,” Levine said.
Cembalest agrees with Levine. “Women pay attention to everything -- to super personal things — bathroom problems, miscarriages...” she said.
Attention to details, sometimes mundane, always jarring. That was the message from the four graphic artists on the panel. “Do the most embarrassing things,” advised Miriam Katin. “Let your brain move around like a cockroach!” Katin -- creator of the Holocaust autobiography, We Are On Our Own, as well as comics including “Eucalyptus Nights” and “Curried Away” -- spoke of the freeing effect of writing about her past. “After writing/drawing the book, I realized that only then could I talk about my past.”
Describing her character as “a small little nothing full of anxiety,” Miss Lasko-Gross, known for “A Mess of Everything” and "Escape from Special,” said that her comics were a reasonable mirror of how she was at a given time. To gain perspective on her life’s experiences, she intentionally leaves lag time. Does her work ever embarrass her family? “My parents are just “retardedly proud of everything I do,” she said. “Their pride rolls over their shame.”
Lauren Weinstein, who published “Goddess of War” (Picturebox 2008), explained that she tried to avoid things that hurt other people, at least for 10 years. “Just recently, I put up a comic about my meat-loving husband’s juice cleanse. That did not work out too well!” she said.
Touring the exhibit, curator Levine pointed out that many of the artists were dealing with the same or similar story. Miriam Katin was in Israel in the 1960s, Miriam Libicki was there in the 1990s, and Sarah Glidden (“How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less”) was there on a Birthright trip fairly recently. It took her two years to complete the piece. “She told me,” Levine said, that “she was living inside of two weeks for two years.”
Levine pauses before Ariel Schrag’s “Home for the Holidays" (2002). Schrag’s subject here is scheduling doctor’s appointments when you come home for the holidays. Making sure that you see the dermatologist! “I love this piece,” he said. “It reminds me of my sister.”
"Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women" is on display at the Yeshiva University Museum in New York until April 15, 2012.