Some art historians have argued that Jewish feminists are particularly attuned to sexuality, radical politics, and injustice because of Jewish involvement in modernism and leftist politics. Indeed, Jewish painters have played decisive roles in founding and sustaining major feminist theories and art collectives. This exhibition explores how social revolutions take place not only in the realm of ideas and politics, but in style and form.
The exhibition is ripe with Jewish feminist artwork worthy of attention and praise, but one piece in particular stands out to us at the Jewish Women's Archive. In 1996, artist Joyce Kozloff decided to name the streets of New York after famous Jewish women and created "Naming II," pictured right. Below is her artist's statement:
In the 1990s, I was making artworks based on the maps of cities, cities where I had lived or that had a personal meaning to me. I would grid a map from an atlas and copy it square by square onto a sheet of paper. This would be the scaffold upon which I would build and elaborate, layering and weaving aspects of each city’s history and culture into its streets and byways. As I worked, writing down the names with considerable concentration, it became obvious that all over the world, roads were named after men, mostly men whom I had never heard of. I became annoyed, then angry.
There is enormous power in naming, a subject that has been explored by feminists in a variety of disciplines. I decided to name the streets of my city, where I have lived since 1964, New York, after Jewish women. When I was growing up, NY would be referred to as “Jew York” by anti-Semites. I saw this as an opportunity to embrace and reverse a negative stereotype. I also remembered that in my childhood, a time when new immigrants would anglicize their names, my relatives often talked about who (among the current celebrities) was Jewish. It made me giggle, this cheerleading for one’s own.
So I bought an old map of New York and changed the street names to those of Jewish women, beginning with the most famous. This was done before I was computer literate, so the research was hit or miss. (Today, there are whole websites [jwa.org!]with this kind of information!) I asked women in other disciplines to help by sharing names with me. I found historic names in books. And then I added many women in my own feminist art community. This summer, I turned the original piece into a poster, and added an alphabetical list of the 497 names on the back. If I were producing this artwork in 2010, it would surely have other names on it, but it is a highly personal portrait of a community at the time of its creation.
Joyce Kozloff's "Naming II" speaks to the need to recognize the accomplishments of Jewish women. In 1996 it was difficult to locate 497 stories. Today, JWA's comprehensive historical encyclopedia contains approximately 2,000 stories and hundreds more have been chronicled in This Week in History, We Remember, Jewesses with Attitude, and On the Map. "Naming II" also speaks to the impulse to look at history through a geographic lens - something we at JWA are also working on in our effort to put Jewish Women On the Map.
In 2010, "Naming II" is a reminder of how far we have come in our mission to uncover, chronicle, and share the stories of Jewish women. Fourteen years ago, it was difficult to come up with enough women's stories to name the streets of one city. Our work will not be complete until we can pave the streets of every city with the names and stories of Jewish women. The best part is that by using the internet and Google maps technology, we can! Help us continue Joyce Kozloff's project and re-name the landmarks important to Jewish women's history by putting a story on the map.
Joyce Kozloff has always fused her love of widespread artistic traditions with a feminist activist temperment. She is a founding member of the Heresies publishing collective and originating figure in the Pattern and Decoration movement. Since the 1990s, mapping has featured largely in her work as she seeks the physical correlations between mapping, naming, and subjugation.
In honor of Shifting the Gaze, "Naming II" was made into a poster, available from the Thompson House Press. The original artwork will be on display in Shifting the Gaze at The Jewish Museum until January 30, 2011.
How to cite this page
Berkenwald, Leah. "Renaming, Reclaiming." 25 October 2010. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 24, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/renaming-reclaiming>.