Questioning the Other

Wooden blocks of the Hebrew alphabet; photo courtesy Robyn Awend.

By Robyn Awend

[This is the final article in a series about the importance of Arts in Jewish Education, written by grantees of The Covenant Foundation.]

Who’s in and who’s out? What’s your bottom line? Who is considered the other?

These philosophical questions are ripe for exploration at any season, but never more so than now, as we reflect on global happenings around us, on our history and on our political landscape. And through the lens of art and Judaism, these questions become ever more apt for examination.

As it happens, these are precisely the questions that 40 artists have been asking themselves as part of this year’s Midwest Jewish Artists’ Laboratory theme: Inside/Outside: Exploring Boundaries and Otherness.

Now in it’s 5th year, the Midwest Jewish Artists’ Lab – comprised of Jewish artists from Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Madison, Chicago, Kansas City and Cleveland and supported by a grant from The Covenant Foundation – provides a place of common connection where Jewish artists can gather, to gain inspiration for new work, to deepen engagement for the community and to share Jewish values through the universal language of art.

Being part of a larger regional arts initiative of nearly 100 Jewish artists is very powerful. This shared experience speaks to the importance of exploring our vast connections to Judaism through a communal artistic lens.

This year, as a group, we have been wrestling with many aspects of Inside/Outside, a rich and self-reflective topic as it relates to defining the other and finding the other within ourselves, exploring geographical boundaries in Israel and the defining lines of the local eruv, examining local and international artists whose work deals closely with related matters, and using traditional Jewish texts to lay the foundation and framework for these conversations and contemplations.

In addition, as an exciting new feature of our collaboration in Minneapolis this year, we have been incorporating Pop-Up Labs throughout the city. These Labs serve as a way to join with the larger arts community in the city and invite them to engage in the process, both with the content and with the camaraderie that the Lab provides.

Each Pop-Up Lab is partnered with local Museums exploring related themes through their featured exhibitions, offering new layers of insight and content through a more extensive global lens.

Our first Pop-up Lab last fall was held at the Walker Art Center. We curated a unique arts experience with Walker educators and analyzed the multi-faceted exhibition, Question the Wall Itself, featuring work by dozens of international artists. Lab participants, friends and other artists from the community came together for an evening of questioning, unfolding, and chevruta study. Our second Pop-up Lab was held just last Sunday at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA). We were confronted with the thought-provoking photographs from the new exhibition, Resistance, Resilience, Protest – a very timely and poignant exhibition documenting historical moments and life changing events though the artist’s lens.

We are planning a grand finale Pop-up Lab this summer as a way to commemorate our year of study together. This Lab will be in conjunction with our culminating exhibition featuring work of varying media and insights related to inside+outside+boundaries+otherness. Stay tuned!

These Pop-up Labs have served as a bridge to the broader arts community, to engage more people in critical thinking, and in turn heighten the experience for all those involved. In the Torah we read that we are all created in the image of God, B’tzelem Elohim. It is comforting to have a common ground for all humanity, however, it is also a great responsibility. I believe that it is our work to continue to find the common ground(s) within ourselves, our communities and the other. Art can help us do that.

To learn more about the Minneapolis Jewish Artists’ Lab visit:

Robyn Awend is the Director of Visual Arts at the Sabes Jewish Community Center and the coordinator of the Minneapolis Jewish Artists’ Lab. Awend has been serving the Jewish community for the past 11 years, finding intersections between art and Judaism through diverse exhibitions, interactive dialogue and unique partnerships. Robyn has a BFA from the University of Arizona and an MFA from the University of Dallas. Awend is an artist, specializing in printmaking and the mother of 3 beautiful children.