A Genesis of Genius: Joan Snyder
It’s a thrill for me to see artist Joan Snyder listed among this year’s recipients of MacArthur fellowships, the “genius grants” that honor and advance the work of exceptionally creative thinkers and doers. Joan Snyder greets me each morning as I begin work. A copy of her print, “Our Foremothers,” occupies the wall opposite my desk. A collage of names of all the women in the Bible as well as women in her own family, the print is a visual metaphor for our work at the Jewish Women’s Archive. Commissioned by The Jewish Museum of New York, the piece is included in JWA's online exhibition Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution. Snyder told the exhibit curator that
“this is a feminist piece (made by a feminist, a Jew, and an American). The histories of the women in the Bible were nothing if not those of women ferociously pioneering for the rights of females. The print reflects those histories. They fought for, among other things, women’s right to own property, women’s inheritance rights, women’s struggle against abuse, and on and on. The print names and then tells briefly the history of each woman mentioned in the Bible. I loved doing this print. I love celebrating our foremothers.”
The report on this year’s MacArthur recipients in the Boston Globe (September 24, 2007) featured Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who works for the Department of Veteran Affairs in Boston. Shay was selected as a MacArthur fellow not simply for treating trauma suffered by Vietnam veterans but for his work using literary parallels from Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey with his patients.
Shay and Snyder share an appreciation of the power of the past, as it is recorded in classical texts, to illuminate the present. Snyder’s work, as I look at it daily, urges us towards a more expansive and inclusive history. As someone whose high school’s course in Genesis was titled “Fathers and Sons,” I am reminded by Snyder’s print of how relatively recent both scholarly and popular interest in women in the Bible is. And Snyder’s inclusion of the names of women in her own family strengthens my commitment to continue the work of filling in that history, finding ways to tell the stories of Jewish women in our more recent past to an ever wider public, while also ensuring that the stories unfolding in our own time are well documented and preserved. I, too, love celebrating our foremothers, the ones we’ve known about for millennia and the ones we’re discovering every day.