Faculty and Alumni Featured in Jewish Museum Exhibition

UC Davis College of Letters and Science faculty, former faculty and graduates will be a part of several exhibitions at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco during the coming months. 

Currently on view is “Sabbath: The 2017 Dorothy Saxe Invitational,” now in its eleventh iteration. “Sabbath” gives contemporary artists from a variety of backgrounds the opportunity to delve into a Jewish tradition. While previous Invitationals have primarily focused around Jewish ceremonial and ritual objects, The 2017 Dorothy Saxe Invitational explores a Jewish idea—that of The Sabbath. All the works of art are for sale. Participating in “Sabbath” are Terry Berlier (MFA 2003), Torreya Cummings (BA 1999), Chris Daubert (MFA 1988), Chris Fraser (BA 2000), Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor (MFA 2005), Richard Shaw (MA 1968), and Lucy Puls.

The previous show, Jewish Folktales Retold: Artist as Maggid, asked contemporary artists and writers to reimagine ancient tales. Acting as modern maggids — storytellers, transmitters of knowledge, secrets revealers — they explore the many facets of these stories’ characters, themes and metaphors.

Young Suh, studio art professor, and Katie Peterson, professor of English, have created work inspired by the story “The Souls of Trees” about a couple trying to have a child. Unsuccessful and frustrated in their attempts, the couple is advised by a rabbi to plant trees because the house they live in was built of trees cut too early.

The story especially resonated with Suh and Peterson, who are married and expecting their first child Oct. 1.

“Because we are in the process of making a family, it was a really exciting process,” Suh said. “The idea came out of conversations we had about the stories.”

“We were drawn to this story because these two people were frustrated in trying to make a family,” said Peterson, a poet.

For the exhibition, the duo has made a series of photos and a video of families of various forms taken in a forest titled “The Family of Trees.” Suh took photos while Peterson engaged in journalistically-oriented interviews with the subjects for the video. She also asked participants to draw family trees, which took a wide range of forms.

“These are non-traditional families, not defined by the idealized image of perfect and intact families,” Suh said. “They are families with missing members, of mixed races, with non-gender specific members — all different kinds of families.

“I asked them to think of themselves as a tree and move around to find their own place. It reveals what they feel about the family, their place in it, and how they relate to each other.”

In some photos everyone stands closely together, in some one person stands alone, and in others the family dynamic is shown in multiple groupings.

“We wanted to find a way to tell stories about these families without the obvious social signifiers of how we talk about our families — a more poetic version,” Peterson said.

Elisabeth Higgins O’Connor (MFA, 2005) was inspired by the story of the Golem, a creature made from mud and brought to life, who is a protector but at times gets out of control. She is making large sculptures from cast-off chairs, couches and other materials. Tales of the Golem date to the beginnings of Judaism.

Vera Iliatova, an assistant professor of art from 2004 to 2007, will have paintings in the exhibition.



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