Shaye Levin

Artist Catalogue

Virtual Exhibition

Aleh V’hagshem

The focal point of my work this year revolves around my Jewish heritage and interacts with particular Jewish traditions and how those traditions have impacted my identity. Each piece engages with an aspect of Judaism, ranging from gossip, Kabbalah, and my identity as a queer non-orthodox Jew through mediums of wood, bronze, wax and painting.

I was in a position in which I felt surrounded by gossip, known as lashon hara in Hebrew. It is a major sin within the Torah, citing grave physical and emotional consequences. Being surrounded by gossip, and to an extent even partaking in it, I felt my psyche starting to deteriorate. I decided to start an art piece to combat this, by recording everything I said and heard in order to try lessen my participation in the thing that was causing my psyche strife. From this, I started to gossip less and distance myself from those who repeatedly did. This led me to consider the individuals in my life and what they mean to me, sparking my next project. I engaged with Kabbalah, the spiritual and mystical side of Judaism, and explored the 11 attributes that make up the Tree of Life: Beauty, Crown, Kingdom, Foundation, Strength, Kindness, Understanding, Knowledge, Wisdom, Victory and Splendor. Through each of these, I chose a family member or friend who best aligned with one of these attributes, a sort of exploration of my relationship with them, whether good or bad.

I wanted to explore this world to further my spiritual connection with my Jewish identity, while also come to terms with my orthodox upbringing. In Orthodox Judaism, it is required that the mother is Jewish for the child to be considered Jewish. In my case, my mother is not Jewish, but my father and therefore my entire remaining family is Jewish. However, I have experienced prejudice from my own family for years, even whilst still in the womb. During my mother’s pregnancy, and when I was a baby, grandfather struggled to come to terms with having a ‘non-Jewish’ grandchild, and later even referred to me as a goy (a gentile) despite my obvious engagement with Judaism. This project is an exploration of feeling mistreated by this, and a reclamation of my Jewish identity. My whole family is Jewish, I have been raised Jewish, and have spiritual ties and ancestry with the community. It no longer matters that my mother is not Jewish, what matters is my acceptance of my identity, with or without the acceptance of the orthodoxy.

I believe that Jewish artists are underrepresented in the art world, with only a handful of names belonging to the Jewish community. I aim to add to this, and enter the art world as a minority with a voice. Jews still face anti-semitism in the present day, and the art world is no exception. I want to change this, and represent my community through my art. This year has been a launching pad for me, and I hope to enter the public art world with the ability to give a voice to Jewish minorities and critically engage with the art world to create a better representation for Jewish artists everywhere, and showcase the pride I have in my identity, no matter what my orthodox community thinks of it.