By The Museum at Eldridge Street
Michael Weinstein Gallery & Women’s Balcony
Is it considered a charm for a pregnant woman to wear an apron?
Is there a belief that one must not rock an empty cradle?
What medicines, precautions, and other means are employed in order to have clever children?
In nine large mixed-media works, and in an installation made just for this exhibition, Olin explores a woman’s formative experience of childbirth and childrearing through some of the 283 questions that address these subjects in An-sky’s survey. Often, the artwork includes the questions themselves, either in the original Yiddish or in English. Olin combines them with her own symbolic language, repeating and regrouping the words and symbols to create a dialogue with their subject. A question about children’s games is paired with hands playing cat’s cradle. A sonogram image becomes the modern equivalent of a traditional amulet, a token of protection and safety. Together, the works suggest the artist’s fascination with the universality of superstition and folk beliefs, and her connection to the women of a vanished time and place.
“From the Oral Torah” hangs from the celestial ceiling of our Women’s Balcony, the very place where generations of immigrant women from the Pale of Settlement once came to pray. Like whispered chants or prayers, printed questions are draped over the shoulders of the women evoked by the ethereal garments that the artist has created. Multiple feet emerging from their hems suggest a community and with it a sense of universal belief. The installation spans the divide between the everyday and the sacred. For what could be at once so commonplace and so miraculous as giving birth?