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New Generation of Orthodox Women Artists “In Progress” at Stern College Exhibit

The fifth annual Stern College Senior Art Exhibition, on display at Yeshiva University Museum through July 13, showcases the work of this year’s graduating Studio Art major. The theme, fitting for a student show, is “In Progress,” and it is the process of creation itself that is being celebrated. The senior exhibition is the culmination of the students’ education up to this point—even the design of the display is largely the work of an exhibition design class.

Framed with blue tape to emphasize their ever-developing nature, the pieces that line the walls of the space are as diverse as their creators. Utilizing a range of different media, from painting to sculpture to film, the young artists offer glimpses into their varied sources of inspiration. Jewish identity and connection to Israel is a recurring theme: Emily Wolmark‘s digital prints, for example, put a modern spin on posters created by Israeli tourism agencies in the 1950s and 60s. Victoria Chabot’s Visual Text uses pen and graphite on paper to arrange biblical verse in striking visual patterns that correspond with the theme of the text. Chabot says her piece allows her to combine her two greatest loves, art and the study of Torah: “The Tanakh is filled with such depth and such beauty, and I wanted to relay that in images.”

Some artists have cast a creative eye on their local environs, with paintings of New York City buildings, and photographs of streets and subway stations. Some pieces hark back to the past, others are rooted in the present: from Esther Hersh’s sculptures, which are reminiscent of ancient Greek discus throwers, to a typographic poster series by Adina Eizikovitz Rubin called The Hate List, which lists aggravations such as “When websites don’t tell you if it’s your username or password that’s wrong” and “Please swipe again.”

The Yeshiva University Museum is located at the Center for Jewish History, close to Union Square, which allows the artists to access a wider New York audience who may not be familiar with Stern’s creative output. Says faculty member and curator Traci Tullius, “This group of really deep thinking, creative young women are making art. I think a lot of people don’t even know that Stern has an art department, let alone one that’s as ambitious and contemporary as ours is.” In fact, with 23 graduates this year, the Studio Art program is one of the college’s most popular majors.

Tullius has been with the students since the beginning of their creative process, and she described the delight of witnessing the transformation from “the potential you saw in the student and what they were doing” to “seeing it come out of that messy studio and in the context of a white walled gallery.”

Indeed, the students openly invite us into their messy studios: in a display outside of the exhibition, photographs show the complex works stripped down to their most basic parts. We see the preliminary sketches behind large canvases, as well as diagrams and scribbled notes that would later be turned into intricate multidimensional works. The camera is flipped on completed films; now, the actors and directors stand smiling on set. Looking at these images turns the viewer from a distant observer into a participant in the process of creation. This celebration of the artistic process points to the lovely theme of humility that characterizes the show. The artists don’t minimize the fact that they are students just starting out on their journeys, both artistic and personal. They invite us to share in every step of their growth thus far, but they also remind us that what we see is only the beginning.

Isabel Fattal is a student at Wesleyan College and an intern at Tablet Magazine.

(Image courtesy of Yeshiva University Museum)

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