Don't Call me Erotic

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: K├Âlnisch 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