The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

PopThodox : An Emerging Trend in Contemporary Jewish Art

The lecture presents an emerging trend in Orthodoxy that I call Haredi Pop or Popthodox, which combines Pop Art styles with issues facing Orthodox life. I discuss visibility and identity of contemporary Ultra-Orthodox Jewish artists, emphasizing their expression of a two-way vision: inward and outward. On the one hand they grapple with their identity with introspective humor vis-à-vis their slice of the population, and on the other, they cast a critical, external eye on themselves in the manner of the self-aware outsider.

Given the immanent defensiveness of a sector that calls itself “Haredim” – fearful ones – and its choice to remain explicitly separate from the rest of society, this dual artistic perspective stands out. Contemporary media has confronted this traditional society with severe conflict that forces it to grapple with questions of identity in the context of unavoidable exposure to the wider culture. In parallel, the universal perspective is opened via the ethnic “other,” including the Jewish other, a process that has enabled new invitations in the art world, such as the Too Jewish? Exhibition at the Jewish Museum in New York, which publicly confronted questions of visible ethnicity and religion.

Humor constitutes a significant tool in this challenge; it grows directly out of the rich, culturally vibrant Haredi “street” and reflects its many undercurrents. A new generation of PopThodox artists adopts and challenges canonical stereotypes in the Haredi world and, through a process of articulation with other western cultures, establishes a critical distance between the individual and its society and recognizes the need for an examination of the material condition of the religious life.