The Jewish Street Art Festival, founded by Hillel Smith, gathers Jewish street artists from around the Diaspora and Israel who make street art with Jewish themes. The artists come from diverse backgrounds: Ashkenazi and Mizrachi, secular, religious, and in between. This array of perspectives exemplifies the richness of the Jewish world and creates the stage for a broader conversation about Jewish art and identity. The first Festival was held in 2019 in Jerusalem with 18 murals, bringing international Jewish street artists together for the first time in one place. In 2020, the Festival was reimagined as a way to bring art to local communities, with nine artists painting eight murals across North America for Chanukah.
Jewish Street Art Festival Passover 2021 – Contemporary Plagues brings four muralists into a dialogue responding to different contemporary plagues and creating works in NYC, Charlotte, and Toronto, and is part of a North American project – Dwelling in a Time of Plagues – a coast-to-coast Jewish artistic response to contemporary plagues. To see the other works on display, visit plaguedwelling.com. This project is produced by Asylum Arts and Hillel Smith, in collaboration with LABA, and made possible with the generous support of CANVAS.
Watch – Contemporary Plagues | Artist Talks | Wednesday, March 31
Havtacha (The Promise) by Mike Wirth
The Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice, Queens University of Charlotte – 1900 Selwyn Ave, Charlotte, NC 28274
Since the pandemic hit, many shelters in Charlotte, NC have had to close. This has forced hundreds of individuals and families to the streets and into a make-shift tent city that runs adjacent to a central highway. Many of these people have endured months of freezing temperatures and winter weather. A concerted effort is happening to assist these people, but still many in the community are unaware or choose to ignore the growing problem, and Mike’s mural titled, The Promise Havtacha (הַבְטָחָה) is intended to raise awareness of this crisis. The piece is built around the concept of “a promise”. A promise is at the heart of virtually every system of faith. Spiritual, financial, societal, and interpersonal. The project will highlight the struggle that these individuals face on a daily basis brought on the pandemic and other systematic plagues that befall the Queen City.
What Sustains Us by Hillel Smith
JCC Harlem – 318 W 118th St, New York, NY 10026
Repair The World NYC – 808 Nostrand Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11216
Current circumstances have exacerbated the existing crisis of food insecurity in this country. Meanwhile, an unexpected consequence of the pandemic has been reconnecting us to how and what we eat as we spend more time at home. In Hillel Smith’s paired murals, What Sustains Us, he was inspired by the two quotes bracketing the beginning and end of Birkat Hamazon (the traditional prayer said after eating): “Hazan et hakol” (thanking God for sustaining everything and everyone) and “Na’ar Hayiti v’gam zakanti v’lo raiti tzadik ne’ezav” (I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken…) He has designed a language of faces and body parts built out of utensils and food items—spoons, forks, knives, fruits, and veggies—that offer fun and whimsical encouragement to think about all that connects our bodies to what we eat.
Both& by Bareket Kezwer
Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre – 750 Spadina Ave, Toronto, ON M5S 2J2, Canada
Bareket Kezwer’s Both& inspires us to consider the plague of binary thinking. Passover is a holiday celebrating the duality of freedom and slavery, a time when we intentionally hold the paradox of life—the inseparability and interdependence of seemingly contradictory phenomena. Holding this paradox is not only part of fulfilling the mitzvah of retelling the story of our exodus from Egypt into the land of Israel, but also a lesson that can support us embracing the wholeness of life—especially as we navigate the uncertainty of this global pandemic. Slavery and freedom. Connection and alienation. Division and solidarity. Struggle and growth. Beauty and ugliness. Pleasure and pain. Simcha and sorrow. Recognizing that we cannot have one without the other, Bareket’s mural invites viewers to explore how we can create space and acceptance by shifting our perspective.
This Place Has a Body by Maya Ciarrocchi
Mural – 14th Street Y – 344 E 14th St, New York, NY 10003
Video Installation – showcased on the ZAZ Corner Billboard (South East Corner of 41st Street and 7th Avenue) and will concurrently be projected on the ZAZ10Ts Gallery Wall in the lobby of 10 Times Square. ZAZ10TS, 10 Times Square – 1441 Broadway, New York, NY 10018 (South East Corner of 41st Street and 7th Avenue)
New York City is a city in constant flux and a place of ghosts. We live in apartments that housed countless generations of individuals and families, new buildings rise on top of the foundations of what came before, and long-familiar businesses open and close overnight. Now during the COVID-19 pandemic this flux is more rapid and the scale of loss so immense we barely have time to comprehend its breadth. Combining decorative details that adorned the walls and ceilings of now vanished wooden synagogues with her dancing body and the Unicorn, an ancient symbol of death and rebirth, Maya’s mural project and video installation This Place Has a Body, creates new fantastical spaces out of the residue of loss.
Jewish Street Art Festival Passover 2021 – Contemporary Plagues is produced by Asylum Arts and Hillel Smith, in collaboration with LABA, and made possible with the generous support of CANVAS. Murals have been created in New York City, Charlotte and Toronto. In Toronto, Bareket Kezwer’s mural at the Miles Nadal JCC engages with the plague of binary thinking, and is in partnership with the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Mike Wirth’s mural in Charlotte at the Queens University of Charlotte in partnership with the Stan Greenspon Center for Peace and Social Justice at Queens University of Charlotte, makes visible the plague of housing insecurity. Hillel Smith’s paired murals in New York City, at JCC Harlem and Repair the World NYC, engage with food insecurity. Maya Ciarrocchi’s mural at the 14th St Y and the video installations at ZAZ10TS in New York explores the plague of grief and loss. The work is part of a North American project – Dwelling in a Time of Plagues – a coast-to-coast Jewish artistic response to contemporary plagues. To see the other works on display, visit plaguedwelling.com.
Dwelling in the Time of Plagues launch event is on March 25, 8pm EST / 5pm PST, featuring short talks by participating artists and contributors to the wider Dwelling project. REGISTER HERE.