'Jewish Geographies' aims to combine culture with artistic image

Ethnic and political gallery opens on April 11


For curator Benjamin Kersten, Jewish culture presents an intriguing landscape for thought. It brought him to envision broad ideas for “Jewish Geographies,” a collection of artistic works ranging from video work, spoken-word, poetry and more. 

“Jewish Geographies” pushes the idea that space is “central to understanding Jewish life and cultural expression,” according to a press release. The exhibit opens on April 11 and runs through May 25 in UB’s Lower Art Gallery. 

Kersten, a visual studies graduate student, focuses most of his work on modern and contemporary Jewish art, and literature. He says that he finds promise in the dichotomy between space as it applies to the political and cultural ramification of Jewish culture.

“I think it’s an effective way to think about politics because to me, space is always political in nature,” Kersten said. “Especially because it helps [define] how people live according to social hierarchies or race or gender.”

Kersten pointed out that some works extend even further than space, touching on topics like gender and sexuality. 

Combining different mediums to tell a story of Jewish space wasn’t what Kersten set out to do. Instead, the artists featured in “Jewish Geographies” react to the given theme in their own way. 

Artists in the exhibit include Shasha Dothan, who has exhibited work in galleries like the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art and the Blum & Poe Gallery. 

Kersten aims to spark a discussion regarding Jewishness and looks to expand some attributes and monikers associated with the culture.

“It requires addressing issues of the nation state, but I’m not only concerned with Israel,” Kersten said. “These are issues that are multi-faceted and ones that I’m trying to convey fully”

Robert Sniderman, a poet and consultant for the Jewish History Museum in Arizona, sees his work for “Jewish Geographies” as largely personal. His work in the exhibition is a presentation of artifacts collected over the six-month period. He was inspired by the Weissensee Cemetery in Germany, which is the largest Jewish cemetery in Germany. Located in north-eastern Berlin, Sniderman said he intertwined his work with self reflection and exploration.

“I spent six months studying the space with my body and with my memory and my political confusion and suffering,” Sniderman said. “I would think about history, myself and Israel-Palestine that I wanted to figure out in relation to the cemetery.”

Kersten said he is excited about presenting work which attendees have the opportunity to interact with.

“I think a lot of [artists] are picking media that do correspond to what their main focus is,” Kersten said. “I wouldn’t say that one medium is more effective than the other, but I’m particularly excited about some of the work that requires more of an installation process. When you set up a space for your artwork in the gallery rather than just hanging a piece on the wall, it makes the idea of space so central in the way the viewer experiences the work.”

Brian Evans is the senior arts editor and can be reached at Brian.Evans@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @BrianEvansSpec.


Brian Evans is a senior English major and The Spectrum's senior arts editor.