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The new Jewish Museum Frankfurt opens its first temporary exhibition

24.10.2020 | 12:50 Clock | Culture
The new Jewish Museum Frankfurt opens its first temporary exhibition

Last week, after five years of renovation and new construction, the Jewish Museum Frankfurt held its grand opening (we reported on it HERE). As part of this reopening, the first temporary exhibition in the new Lichtbau space was also presented. Until February 14, 2021, "The Female Side of God" can be seen on nearly 650 square meters.

This is a further development and expansion of the exhibition of the same name that was on view at the Jewish Museum Hohenems in 2017. The Frankfurt version of this exhibition now foregrounds the visuality of the theme and connects the cultural-historical traces of female elements in the concepts of God of the three monotheistic religions with representations in the visual arts. In doing so, it traces a cultural-historical arc not previously undertaken, from ancient archaeological figurines to medieval Hebrew Bible illustrations, Renaissance Madonna paintings, and interpretations by renowned contemporary artists.

The starting point of the exhibition The Feminine Side of God is formed by archaeological artefacts from ancient Israel in which female conceptions of deity and the powers, qualities and desires attributed to them are expressed. In the Hebrew Bible, these female deities are mentioned primarily as idolatrous. At the same time, it includes passages in which abilities are personified and portrayed as female. The "Shechina" in particular is regarded as directly divine, understood in rabbinic Judaism as the "indwelling of God on earth" and described by Jewish mysticism as a creative facet of the one God. This notion forms the center of the exhibition, which focuses on the rediscovery of the largely unknown tradition of female conceptions of God in the mirror of contemporary art.

The exhibition presents archaeological finds, religious testimonies and writings, works of visual art, and ceremonial objects and textiles from three millennia that exhibit a cultural-historical context. She stages the contemporary artworks as a commentary as well as a personal form of reflection on this context.

This is illustrated, for example, by the juxtaposition of an Asherah figurine with the sculpture "Bronze Goddess" by Judy Chicago (bronze on marble, 2017). Jacqueline Nicholls, among others, takes up the ritual as well as spiritual aspects of the theme with her sculpture "Maternal Torah" (Sinamay, Matallösen, genäht, genietet, 2000). A highlight of the exhibition is the large-scale wall piece "Schechina" by Anselm Kiefer (oil, tempera, acrylic, lead and aluminium wire on canvas,1999). The motif of this work is taken up again at the end of the tour by the painting "Kabbalist and Shekhina" by R.B. Kitaj (oil on canvas, 2003).

In a historical excursus, the exhibition explains that, according to current research, women took an active role in the religious practices of late antiquity, the Middle Ages and modern times. This is illustrated, for example, by the gravestone of a female synagogue leader from the first or second century or one of the oldest known Esther scrolls from 1564, which was written by a woman. Hildegard of Bingen, a charismatic polymath of the 12th century, also established her own doctrine with her visions and ascetic lifestyle. Artist Ofri Cnaani recalls the story of an early 19th-century Hasidic rebel in her illustrated book, The Virgin of Ludmir (ink on paper, 2014). In the 20th century, women's rights activist Bertha Pappenheim campaigned for reform of Orthodox worship and composed her own prayers. A little later, Regina Jonas, the world's first female rabbi, was ordained in Offenbach am Main.

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