No matter where you turn here at Brandeis, it seems like art pervades every nook and cranny, even to the furthest reaches of campus. The Rose Art Museum is not the only place you can go to in order to satisfy your need to engage with art (though that desire would be better served if you went into Boston and explored the depths of the Museum of Fine Arts). Actually, unbeknownst to some people, the other center for the arts at Brandeis is Epstein, part of which is dedicated to art students’ art spaces and studios, the other side of which is Kniznick Gallery. Interestingly enough, a new exhibition sponsored by the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute and Women’s Studies Research Center had its debut on Thursday, April 7 in Kniznick Gallery. Titled “Wendy Wolfe Fine—The Pearl that Slipped Its Shell,” the exhibition has a story to tell that is even more powerful and beautiful than its name.
Intended to visually explore and represent the experiences of Jewish women before and after the Islamic Revolution of 1979, Fine uses a multimedia approach to show the rapid change in lifestyle as women lost a plethora of personal freedoms. Using the lens of one family whose story resonates with that of many others, the Mizrahi family immigrated to the United States and continue to practice Iranian Jewish traditions. Wolfe’s work is a wonderful synthesis of videos, photography and cultural objects all wrapped in one, and all of which work together to give the viewer an intimate glimpse of another culture. Several video clips of the family doing everyday tasks such as cooking alongside videos that incorporate narration in a documentarian-style give viewers a deeper understanding of this Iranian family and their daily experiences.
Using the Mizrahi family’s experience to construct the entire exhibition, each subsection of “The Pearl that Slipped Its Shell” is intended to depict a different facet of Iranian culture or its rich history that involves deeply seated emotions like fear, anger, triumph and perseverance. The “Exit to the Street” series explores the institution of the chador, a garment that women were forced to wear, whereas “Room of Loss” is meant to represent the room where the family congregates together for major holidays and family meals, bonding over plate and drink. The “Courtyard of Rejuvenation,” on the other hand, showcases the location that intrinsic herbs, vegetables and spices are harvested. This series is well-married to “The Kitchen,” which is more or less self-explanatory. Lastly, and possibly most empowering of all Wolfe’s work, is the “Passage of Uprootedness,” which shows the Mizrahi family’s escape route out of Iran, journeying through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Although generally small in size, the exhibition is both moving and captivating in its ability to portray something that is otherwise difficult to learn about in depth. Wolfe’s vision gives an unflinching view that is organic in its ability to engage with the viewer. Wolfe was more than successful in her venture to display the intrinsic beauty of Iranian culture, with its blending of colorful spices, a dinner celebration on a white blanket and a live garden with all its thriving vegetables and herbs.
In an attempt to illustrate the social implications and the emotional experience of women to newfound restrictions on their daily lives, Wolfe showed the garment itself, the chador, alongside a video of Sharona Mizrahi, who explains her own feelings during this time of rapid change. “I would take the bus or walk to the bazaar. It was two kilometers away … at age five my mom would let me go buy bread in the neighborhood. This was during the Shah—you felt more secure to be outside. After the Revolution, my older brother had to go with me everywhere.” A chador is an item of clothing that is fully draped over the body, leaving only a small hole for the face. These collaborative works are especially poignant because of the way in which the various pieces, once paired together, evoke a certain sense of dread at the severity of rules imposed on women.
Wolfe’s exhibition “Wendy Wolfe Fine—The Pearl that Slipped Its Shell” will be available to the public until Friday, June 24.