Playing with History

Jewish subjectivity in contemporary lens-based art

Authored by: Rachel Garfield

The Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Jewish Cultures

Print publication date:  September  2014
Online publication date:  July  2017

Print ISBN: 9780415473781
eBook ISBN: 9780203497470
Adobe ISBN: 9781135048556


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What does an explicit engagement with Jewish identity give to an art practice and what does such a practice tell us of our lived relations as Jews – in our multifarious ways of relating to that term? The urgency of this question can be understood within a context of multiculturalism where art is seen as a key component in the production of culture. The post war model for art funding has revolved around the idea that art has an impact on society and therefore can be of use in improving it; art projects are often funded on the basis of their direct impact on local neighborhoods and their communities. 1 Recent governments have seen the visual arts as central to developing economic regeneration and social cohesion in multicultural cities (Fisher 2011: 63). This is an instrumentalist vision of what art does and I suggest in this essay that art can stimulate change in a more subtle and profound way through the way it forms an understanding of the subject that is not altogether coherent or in line with a putative community. My aim is not to find artists who confirm a special relationship to victimhood, nor who celebrate Judaism particularly. Alongside many contemporary thinkers such as Stuart Hall or Judith Butler, and building on their work, I am concerned with posing questions that address what possibilities are constituted through thinking about identity as an ongoing and negotiated articulation of lived relations.

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