Mis/Constru(ct)ed Indentities: Exploring Jewish Stereotypes

An Installation by Leslie Freedman
Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art

May 1- August 1, 2013

Mis/Constru(ct)ed Identities is a site-specific exhibition composed of modular, stackable, sculptural forms sheathed in screen-printed linoleum tiles. Though geometric, graphic, and colorful, Friedman’s undulating wall sculptures explore a serious, typically troubling, subject: stereotypes about the Jewish people. Some of these stereotypes—such as associations with intelligence and humor— could be considered flattering. Others—such as the canard of deicide and the “blood libel”—have been the source of centuries of persecution and suffering. Still more—the perception of disproportionate Jewish involvement, and success, in entertainment and finance—may inspire pride, suspicion, or are simply dismissed, with these varied responses depending upon each individual’s perspectives and mindset. Friedman confronts these stereotypes creatively and without fear, thereby challenging the viewer to do the same.

From the Artist
For its visually dazzling decoration and, intellectually, for its information overload, the strategies of Pop Art influence my work.  By way of screen-printed repeat patterns on materials like linoleum tile, I transform spaces into bright, glossy, sparkly surfaces with subversive content below.  As a scholar of both art and political science, I am intrigued by the power of a visual vocabulary to set the stage for political dialogue. 
Mis/Constru(ct)ed Identities addresses the stereotypes, myths, and conspiracy theories associated with Jews in America. By combining the positive and negative stereotypes, the exhibition is meant to set the stage for necessary dialogue about how a cultural group—in particular, one that has witnessed genocides and persecution as well as triumphs and prestige—is affected by labels and myths. In an attempt to showcase the spectrum of stereotypes, the most negative patterns are located at the bottom of my wall sculptures. Conversely, the positive tile patterns, like the humorous Oy Vey pattern, are positioned closer to the top.  Interpreting the tiles and asking other people what they think they mean is how we begin the dialogue about stereotypes and what power they hold.
Leslie Friedman was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island.  Currently, she lives and works in Philadelphia, where she received her MFA in Printmaking. Friedman teaches at Temple University, The University of the Arts, and Muhlenberg College. 

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