In the Gallery – Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women


By Sarah Lightman,  Co-Curator and Artist in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women

(c) Sarah Lightman – Graphic Details

I’d like to take a moment to talk about the show, and why it is so different from what I was just watching on TV last weekend.

Back home [in Britain] the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee have just come to an end – having flooded every TV channel, newspaper and magazine. Yet amongst all this colour and pageantry, it is also widely acknowledged just how little we know about what the Queen thinks and feels. For she is, and here I quote a columnist from last weekend’s Guardian Newspaper, “one of the last silent celebrities.”

The artists in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, as you may have already seen already, are quite the opposite.

(c) Corinne Pearlman – Graphic Details

Here on the walls of the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery at the Washington DCJCC, are comics that delight in the scatological, emotional, political, and sexual messiness of life. And in the need to tell of their lives, these 18 artists from Israel, UK, USA and Canada reflect not only a very Jewish nuance to living, but also some radical innovations.

Jewish life and experience is a constant litany of retelling and reliving stories: of what happened to us. For example, we are encouraged every Pesach around our seder tables, to feel like we personally came out of Egypt. The weekly Torah readings at synagogue are extrapolated in sermons to ensure the experiences of our forefathers relate to our very own lives, even though we are separated by thousands of years. Jewish life is a training ground for us to learn to tell our own stories, with both a personal, yet also wider, relevance.

(c) Sharon Rudahl – Graphic Details

Critically, however, it is predominantly the male experience, the male story that is passed down. The female experience is not recorded, vocalized and explored.

And I consider the description of Teresa de Lauretis of female characters in ancient mythology to be very apt – she writes in Alice Doesn’t how the female characters “have survived inscribed […] in someone else’s story, not their own; so they are figures and markers of positions […] places through which the hero and his story move to their destination and to accomplish meaning.”

But here in Graphic Details we have heroines.

These heroines survive and thrive the onslaught of daily and domestic life. The Graphic Details artists recognize that the comic offers a stage set where they as artists and writers are both directors, and stars.

(c) Lauren Weinstein – Graphic Details

An autobiographical comic is an empowering space, where for those pages, it’s their version of life and their life journey, that takes precedence.

Another way in which these comic artists voices are radical is because they tell of troubling experiences that are experienced by many, yet are frequently undiscussed. Miscarriage, divorce, coming out, failed relationships, complex friendships and regrets fill the walls.

These personal and resonant stories are able to fill the work because of the intimacy and safety of the comic.

(c) Diane Noomin – Graphic Details

As you can see, often comics pages are structured around a grid shape like a waffle. The square paneling of these comics pages are safe and controlled spaces for stories that are conflicted and painful. The size of the images and texts requires us to get close so we can read and see the work – forming a physical closeness like a friend whispering a secret.

In a world where being Jewish and a woman in society brings complicated expectations and resistance, comics offer a safe space to begin a confession, and find a voice for previously silenced fears, feelings and memories.

So I would like to conclude by suggesting that in visualizing and vocalizing their lives, the 18 artists of Graphic Details are reconfiguring a central concern of Jewish life – a commitment to History – but here it is a Herstory. As they take their own experiences and bring them to the wider Jewish and non-Jewish world, they are following a traditional and untraditional path.

Sarah Lightman is both a co-curator and an artist in Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women, on display through September 2, 2012.

(c) Graphic Details

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