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This is the time Jewish people observe the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. While Israel fights for its existence in the United Nations and fends off bombs in their back 40, Jewish artists calmly create works of art around the globe. This does not mean they are unaware or unconcerned with the plight of Israel or irreligious; many Jewish artists who publicly proclaim their heritage also use their history, customs and religion to inform and inspire their work.
One of these is a remarkable, self-taught artist from the Miami area, Igal Fedida. Fedida was raised in Israel and pursued successful business careers in the U.S. before turning to art: first photography and now painting.
Fedida has developed a very unique style full of extreme contrasts, sharply focused on message. His works are overtly spiritual in content through the use of biblical symbolism on subjects such as order and chaos, good and evil and creation. Often there are clear physical divisions on his canvas that geographically claim space and attention for competing forces.
Fedida is open about his beliefs through his art and his person, wearing a yarmulke, as traditional Jewish men often wear. Probably the most striking element in his art is his use of stunning Hebrew calligraphy and Scripture, causing some canvases to resemble modern illuminated manuscripts more than traditional paintings.
“Otiyot,” from Genesis Series – Igal Fedida
“Leaving Egypt,” Elke Reva Sudin
Elke Reva Sudin is a painter and illustrator from Brooklyn who is successfully reaching out to the larger world of the New York art scene. Sudin is motivated to help move the 4,000 year tradition of Jewish art into the 21st century. Her themes are cued from local urban scenery and her Orthodox Jewish beliefs, but they don’t stick with orthodox content.
At the tender age of 24, Sudin not only sells art to giants such as the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, but curates, writes, lectures and is in effect a cultural ambassador for Jewish art and life.
An example is her piece “Leaving Egypt,” which she showed at the Dura Europos Project for the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art in spring 2011. The project invited artists to respond to religious art from the ancient Dura-Europos synagogue built approximately 230 A.D. in Syria.
Sudin and her filmmaker husband Saul also founded the group “Jewish Art Now” to create a platform for contemporary Jewish art, such as her own “Hispsters and Hassids” series.
Her paintings focus on friction, conflict and similarities between two groups of people living in close proximity. Done in a painterly, illustrative style with brilliant, Middle Eastern colors, they visually expose the overlapping and unnoticed parallels between the groups. These works have experienced considerable friction on Brooklyn’s streets and are perhaps a peace overture focusing on festivities and celebrations. Since both groups attend Sudin’s events, it must make for interesting social situations.
One Jewish Pop-artist takes quite an unexpected form. Rabbi Yitzchok Moully teaches youth in a Chavad Center in New Jersey and makes contemporary art mixed with old-world, traditional values. Raised in a rigorously orthodox, Chassidic community, Moully yearned for a little more color and creativity in his life than was offered in Rabbinical classes. So he produced it for himself.
“Hassidic Gathering,” Rabbi Yitzchok Moully
Moully finds an expressive outlet for his creativity in the silkscreen process where he projects Judaic and Chassidic symbols onto bold, contrasting color fields. His work, which he describes as “Chassidic Pop Art” is simple and somewhat similar to Andy Warhol.
One of the goals for Moully’s hip, religious art is to make the Torah “cool” in this world, particularly for young people. He points out that the Torah will always remain the same, so ultimately we need to find what is “cool within the Torah” so it will resonate in our lives and be more relevant. He hopes his work may help by blending the energy and vitality of his Jewish heritage with personal expression.
The works of these artists prove that the modern Jewish community is not generally hostile to figurative art and is often wildly enthusiastic. While some of their works are solely spiritual, others refer to the political situation in Israel and anti-Semitism, even if only through historical and biblical references.
Elke Reva Sudin is involved with the group “Artists 4 Israel,” which supports Israel’s right to a peaceful existence. They are active on many campuses, using creativity to educate people on current conditions in Israel. One of their gallery installations is an exact, interactive replica of an Israeli bomb shelter, such as used in Siderot at this very time. It is outfitted with sirens and wails for the look, feel and smell of the original experience, which you would not like to partake of in the flesh.
“The Bomb Shelter” has attracted the notice of major news media, who hopefully will also consider this part of the group’s mission statement: “We are the security fence against cultural terrorism.”