In 1979, Israel’s Museum of the Jewish Diaspora altered a historical painting by removing the women from a synagogue scene [LILITH, Summer I994|. Two Jewish women artists are responding with a controversial new installation, “Erased Out Of Herstory.”
The original painting by Mauricio Gottleib, “Jews Praying in a Synagogue on Yom Kippur,” which shows the men in the front of the synagogue in tallitim and the women behind them, overlooking the scene, hangs in the Tel Aviv Museum. In the Diaspora Museum’s reproduction, the women have been replaced by a wall. This was done in order to, in the words of Chief Curator Joel Cahen, “accentuate the figures in the foreground….”
Due to public pressure, the museum has recently covered the painting so that it is not actually on display. However, it has been neither removed from the gallery nor replaced with an accurate reproduction.
That a museum, whose job it is to educate people about art and about history through art feels it has the right to alter artwork, raises many questions about freedom of expression, artistic integrity, and a museum’s responsibility to the artist.
“Feeling doubly insulted as artists and as Jewish women,” say Leslie A. Golomb and Louise Silk, of Philadelphia, “we decided to create an art piece to help bring the issue into the public eye.” “Erased Out of Herstory” is an impressive work, made up of a curtain which hangs from ceiling to floor, 10 empty folding chairs behind it, and signed petitions to The Diaspora Museum, demanding that it correct it’s display. As the artists describe their work, “the curtain was constructed from a fabric silk-screened with the original painting. The men are cut and pieced into many fragmented six pointed stars, while the women form the border of the construction. The curtain obstructs the view of the 10 chairs and the petitions.”
Golomb and Silk hope that their piece will help to capture the attention of a larger audience. “Seeing controversy visually in an art context can be much more powerful than a newspaper article or a petition. We want to do our part to correct the museum’s very negative statement of respect for women and artists.”
“Erased Out of Herstory” is available to travel. For details, contact the artists directly at (412) 361-1158, fax (412) 363- 5342. To demand that the Diaspora Museum rectify this situation, contact Sheila Decter, AJC Commission on Women’s Equality, 126 High Street, Boston, MA, 02110