Dwelling in a Time of Plagues Passover: A Coast-to-Coast Exhibition

When we observe Passover later this month at the traditional seder meal, we will recite the 10 Plagues that God is said to have imposed on the ancient Egyptians as punishment for not freeing their Israelite slaves. But this will be the second consecutive Passover marked by the modern-day plague of Covid-19, which has killed more than 2 million people worldwide and dramatically restricted all forms of social interaction. 

In this uniquely challenging moment, one in which individuals are turning to art for sustenance and meaning even as the arts sector faces staggering financial challenges, the CANVAS Jewish arts and culture funding collaborative incubated at JFN has mobilized Jewish artists, authors, artistic and cultural networks, and museums for “Dwelling in a Time of Plagues,” a Jewish creative response to the real-world plagues of our time.

CANVAS-commissioned works will be displayed online at www.plaguedwelling.com and at museums and sites throughout North America, including in Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Detroit, New York, and Toronto. They will also be featured in a downloadable PDF (emailed March 22) designed to spark conversation and reflection at seder tables and beyond.

These new works — outdoor sculptures, murals, essays, audio pieces, videos, and digital art experiences — reinterpret the themes of Passover in response to our times. Collectively, these commissions grapple with contemporary plagues, such as the global pandemic, homelessness, institutional racism, xenophobia, ageism, forced isolation, binary thinking, and the climate crisis. Each plague will also feature a literary response or a component based on a collaboration between the artist and an author. The literary component will be curated by the Jewish Book Council and participating authors include Moriel Rothman-Zecher, Sarah Blake, and Rebecca Soffer.

The new exhibits build on the success of the first phase of “Dwelling” in October, which focused on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. “Dwelling” is a collaboration of Jewish arts and culture networks Reboot, Asylum Arts, LABA, the Council of American Jewish Museums, and the Jewish Book Council. The five are grantees of CANVAS, a Jewish Funders Network-incubated philanthropic collaborative dedicated to elevating the field of Jewish arts and culture. Other “Dwelling” partners include Modern Loss and Repair the World. 

Among the Passover works are:

  • “At Our Table,” Olivia Guterson’s reimagining of a Passover table constructed from locally sourced, discarded single-use plastics. (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit [MOCAD]).
  • “Golem v. Golem,” an 8-part episodic video series exploring the multiple dimensions of contemporary artist Julie Weitz’s “My Golem project,” an iterative performance and video work that centers on Weitz’s portrayal and embodiment of a futuristic, folkloric humanoid. (Vilna Shul in Boston)
  • Tal Beery’s “A Binding,” in which audio excerpts of Baltimore residents speaking about their experiences of losing loved ones to Covid-19 will play on loop from speakers hidden at the base of two large decorative arches on the facade of the Jewish Museum of Maryland (Baltimore). 

“Passover is a period when Jews, religious and not, pause to reflect on the plagues that enslave us and the forces that liberate us,” says Lou Cove, Founder of CANVAS. “We see every day on our screens the toll that forced separation and social division has taken in the exhausted faces of our communities, friends and loved ones. ‘Dwelling’ is CANVAS’ creative response to these plagues. We want to bring the liberating force of creativity to bear, reflecting the modern plagues we all endure, and encouraging a surge of imaginative expression designed to liberate our thinking and point us toward a more hopeful future.”

"We need to experience art as we come out of winter and re-imagine the year ahead," says Melissa Martens Yaverbaum, Executive Director of the Council of American Jewish Museums. "Pesach asks us to think about who should be 'at our table,' and what we will prioritize moving forward.  In launching these public art projects, Dwelling challenges viewers to address what has plagued us." 

Learn more about “Dwelling in a Time of Plagues” and each work at www.plaguedwelling.com.

Learn more about CANVAS at www.bycanvas.org.