Queer at the Root is a compelling virtual art show featuring 18 Jewish, queer and/or transgender artists, presented by the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre in Toronto in collaboration with Jewish Queer Trans (JQT) Vancouver.
Curated by Angelic Goldsky, JQT Vancouver’s artistic director, the multi-disciplinary exhibit includes visual art, photography, poetry, music and film from artists across Canada and the United States.
In the show’s opening statement, Goldsky quotes the poet Adrienne Rich, who has described the Jewish child’s identity as being “split at the root,” with many Jews feeling a distance, or a gap from a sense of home in being a Jew.
The works in the exhibit live “side by side, in the multiplicity of Jewishness, of queerness, of transness,” Goldsky writes. “Here we are, creating to unsplit ourselves, to come back into our kin, to affirm we always were, in fact, here.”
Gil Segev’s Call Me By Your Name, textile art depicting a young, queer Jewish character he saw in a movie, launches the exhibit.
“I spent over a month and a half stitching this because of the strong connection I feel to this character,” writes Segev in the accompanying text. Segev also writes that he performs as Gila Münster, Richmond Hill, Ontario’s premiere Israeli Jewish drag superstar.
Lilith,a dark pop song featuring soaring soulful vocals by alt-pop singer PLEXXAGLASS, is a “rallying of folks within the entire sexuality and gender spectrum to denounce those who try to keep us from thriving,” PLEXXAGLASS said in altpress.com.
Mya Byrne’s short film, Lou: A San Francisco Fantasy is loosely based on the experiences of the gay transgender man Lou Sullivan (1951-1991), an activist who was known for his work on behalf of trans men. The film, featuring an all-trans Jewish cast, was part of the 2020 San Francisco Transgender Film Festival.
In the text accompanying Holly Steele’s bright expressionist self-portrait Out and Proud, she describes herself as single, Jewish and queer and she writes about how much she is enjoying her midlife transformation in Vancouver. The painting exudes fun and pleasure.
freygl gertsovski’s well-written poem Garlic is about a woman who carries garlic in her pockets, “like love letters from her ancestors,” in an attempt to protect herself from anti-Semitism and “the vampires of empire/ capitalism, white supremacy, cis-hetero-patriarchy.” (Cis, short for cisgender, refers to when a person’s gender identity corresponds to their sex as assigned at birth.)
KD’s lovely painting, Voices of the Brides, depicts two angelic brides taking part in an Orthodox wedding ceremony under a huppah. In the accompanying text, she writes that the painting came out of her desire to represent her Jewish and her lesbian identities together.
“This piece means a lot to me and represents who I am. I would like to share it with other LGBTQ+ Jews, as I cannot share it with my Jewish family because they would not accept me if I came out.”
In line with KD’s fears, No Turning Back, one of three vibrant collages Mx. Enigma contributed to the show, explores coming out.
Mx. Enigma’s work has been shown in more than 50 galleries internationally, including at New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Queer at the Root is Mx. Enigma’s first Canadian show.
Mx. Enigma is a Mizrahi, queer non-binary Jew from an Orthodox background, who uses the pronouns they/them.
“I am on a very untraditional path, I never planned for it. I grew up with the mentality, do your duty, be the breadwinner and have children,” they said in an interview with The CJN.
“We feel we either have to cut off or compromise who we are to be accepted or we have to be ourselves and lose all forms of support. One of the biggest and hardest decisions was to come out as my authentic self and another hard and difficult decision was to leave the Orthodox world. I had to reinvent myself. Our communities of faith, they don’t practice what they preach. Now the temple that I go to is accepting and affirming.
Mx. Enigma added that we’ve been taught there is a certain way of being Jewish and a certain way of expressing our identity.
“I need to choose what is right for my soul, what is right for my body and my experience, and I need to choose people who are going to go along with me,” they said. “Unfortunately, sometimes you have to sever ties with those who are your family that are not healthy for you.”
Some of the images in the collage No Turning Back, including ones of the Virgin Mary, come from a Catholic religious catalogue Mx. Enigma got from a neighbour, who once tried to do an exorcism at Mx. Enigma’s door.
Also included in the exhibit is Mx. Enigma’s Declutter My View, White Boo!, created over a picture of a European Riviera landscape, which they replaced with images reflecting the clutter in their mind. By using the landscape, Mx. Enigma said they’re making a comment on white privilege being deconstructed. “Not just an ordinary landscape, as I’m repurposing traditional painting that excluded my narrative with my own representation,” they said. The collage includes images of Jewish pride and anti-Semitism that Mx. Enigma has experienced and the monster images reflect their anger toward the world and how the world demonizes them.
Although Mx. Enigma is a queer Mizrahi artist, they stressed that those labels don’t entirely define their work.
“It does add to the perspective of the work, but I also know that the true beauty of visual language is being able to communicate to all folk, to find common empathy to uplift and validate our humanity.”
Queer at the Root can be viewed until July 30 at this link.