In 2020, COVID-19 arrived, which locked us all in our homes, in our cities and countries. In Argentina, where I live, even today, since March, it is not possible to fly freely and airports are only used in exceptional cases.
Being a part of LABA: A Laboratory of Jewish Culture, which began at the 14th Street Y and expanded to the West Coast and Argentina, has proven once again that art transcends physical borders and doesn’t have limitations.
LABA has been part of my global and local artistic life since 2012, when Ronit Muszkatblit invited me to be a part of it. Without knowing me personally, she still thought I would be a good fit.
As an Argentinean artist, born to immigrant parents who arrived after the Second World War as surviving refugees from Auschwitz, I had always been interested in the culture of my ancestors, but had never studied formally in any Jewish institution. I used my artistic projects to connect with and study specific texts. So, the invitation to join LABA seemed right on, but we had many miles between us.
I was not willing to leave my life in Buenos Aires to go and live for a year in New York, and LABA worked once a month exclusively for artists in that city. We came up with a system that seemed extravagant at the time – and today is the new normal: my studies would be “virtual” for a year. When other fellows met in person, I joined by computer. I felt almost like a robot participating in classes with the great Ruby Namdar and directed by Ronit Muszkatblit, Elissa Strauss.
That was our first trans-continental (and trans-idiomatic) adventure, and from there on no one could stop us! In 2015, I launched LABA-BA, which I direct to this day. Tova Shvartzman gives us much valuable wisdom in Buenos Aires with her classes.
In 2020, I was commissioned, yet again virtually, to build a Sukkah at the Jewish History Museum in Tucson, Arizona. A Sukkah, which should be linked to the reality of the place – it was a challenge to think of how to direct a project like this from Buenos Aires.
The magic of art, desire, and above all, common strength made it possible. A wonderful team of people in Tucson assisted me, starting with museum curator Nika Kaiser, who connected me with all the right people from each guild and the entire museum staff. We made a great team. This significant Sukkah was built and is titled “Clamor in the Desert.”
The significance of the name “Clamor in the Desert”
The movement of people around the world does not stop stirring. Whether emigrants, exiles, expatriates, immigrants, or refugees – all are displaced from their homes, and are referenced in this sukkah. The sukkah is an unstable and temporary construction, representing the fragility of human life and at the same time a shelter for anyone who feels forlorn.
“Kol Koreh Bamidbar” are the Hebrew words to say “that voice that cries out for protection.” The work transforms fence materials into a shelter that welcomes everyone. The same material that is used to build limits and separate us are used in this habitable installation to build a celebration, a shelter that receives humanity as a whole. Humanity is represented on the walls of the sukkah, as they are filled with printed images of eyes through the collective action of participants. Visitors will be invited to hang prints to the installation. Mirrors hanging from the structure will reflect the eyes of visitors, as witnesses. In the time of our current plague, although our mouths are covered with protective masks, our voices in our eyes continue to claim justice together.
This Friday evening for Simchat Torah, the windows of the 14th Street Y will be covered with the eyes of diverse groups of people, as well as with the first article of the Declaration of Human Rights written in contemporary and ancient languages, languages of Native American peoples, and, of course, also in Yiddish, Ladino and Hebrew.
I invite you to come and observe them from the sidewalk in front of the 14Y on Friday evening and make a toast for this clamor to expand to many cities in the world. May we all open our eyes and take care of the equality and wellness of our neighbors.
ARTIST: Mirta Kupferminc (in Argentina)
MUSEUM: Jewish History Museum (Tucson, AZ)
In collaboration with LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture as part of the national project Dwelling in a Time of Plagues.
Clamor in the Desert is a collaboration of LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture and the Jewish History Museum, made possible with the generous support of CANVAS. The work is part of the national project – Dwelling in a Time of Plagues – which makes new outdoor art possible at museum sites, with organizational support from the Council of American Jewish Museums. To see the other works on display, visit plaguedwelling.com.
Simchat Torah 14Y Window Installation
Beginning Sundown on Friday, October 9
Stop by the 14th Street Y at 344 East 14th Street near the corner of First Ave to view the window installation. The art will be on display now through late November.
The CANVAS Jewish arts and culture funding collaborative has mobilized Jewish artists, authors, artistic and cultural networks, and museums for “Dwelling in a Time of Plagues,” a Jewish creative response to the real-world plagues of our time.
CANVAS-commissioned works will be displayed online at www.plaguedwelling.com and at museums and sites throughout North America, including in Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, New York and Toronto. They will also be featured in a downloadable PDF designed to spark conversation and reflection at seder tables and beyond.
These new works — outdoor sculptures, murals, essays, audio pieces, videos, and digital art experiences — reinterpret the themes of Passover in response to our times. Collectively, these commissions grapple with contemporary plagues, such as the global pandemic, homelessness, institutional racism, xenophobia, ageism, forced isolation, binary thinking, and the climate crisis. Each plague will also feature a literary response or a component based on a collaboration between the artist and an author. The literary component will be curated by the Jewish Book Council and participating authors include Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Sarah Blake, and Rebecca Soffer.
The new exhibits build on the success of the first phase of “Dwelling” in October, which focused on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. “Dwelling” is a collaboration of Jewish arts and culture networks Reboot, Asylum Arts, LABA, the Council of American Jewish Museums, and the Jewish Book Council. The five are grantees of CANVAS, a Jewish Funders Network-incubated philanthropic collaborative dedicated to elevating the field of Jewish arts and culture. Other “Dwelling” partners include Modern Loss and Repair the World.