Heschel, King and You, 2015: An Invitation to “Be There”

Heschel King You WorksheetTo conclude my consultancy as the 2014-15 Eduardo Rauch Artist-in-Residence at the Heschel School in New York, I created an interactive visual project titled “Heschel, King and You” for Heschel@Heschel Week at the school. I altered the central iconic photograph of the march on Selma, to include a blank figural silhouette* (see Artist’s Statement below) linking arms with Heschel and King, along with the following text: Heschel was there because he prayed with his legs. King was there because he had a dream. Why will you be there?”

Atrium InstallationStudents, faculty and staff contributed written responses reflecting what “being there” meant to them, globally, politically or personally, whether  imagining joining the Selma march, taking a stand on a current social issue, working to ensure Israel’s existence, human rights or helping a friend or family member in trouble.

Heschel quote

Writing StatementsEach participant was invited to “make a mark”, a thumbprint promise to “be there” in the space of the empty silhouette. By the project’s end, each unique human print created a composite community presence” perpetuating the legacy of Heschel’s prayers and King’s dreams. I wove their personal statements and the thumbprints into the overall piece.

PRINTS

printing

ThumbPrinting As the project expanded, I integrated vintage printed collage materials from my studio into the composition, referencing the shared Biblical and historical metaphors about which King and Heschel were passionate. Heschel viewed King’s preference for the Exodus as the primary motif in the Civil Rights movement as a major step forward in relations between Christians and Jews. King drew an understanding of the nature of God’s involvement with humankind from his background in the black church, which resonated with Heschel’s concept of Divine pathos, linking the two men intellectually and spiritually. Both were considered prophets, messengers of their time, linked by their committment to prayer, morality and political activism.

Messenger of PeaceMessenger of Peace textHand of GodMoses, Aaron and Edybaby Moses

He Changeth the TimesPeter Geffen

SlavesLook Down, O LordPillar of Clouds

Completed project *AMY COHEN ARTISTʼS STATEMENT
In a conceptual piece such as this, I have taken an iconic photograph and tweaked it, respectfully, to create a conceptual, contemporary work interpreting a historic event. I intended to make the following points:
I integrated vintage printed collage materials from my studio into the composition, referencing the shared Biblical and historical metaphors about which King and Heschel were passionate. Heschel viewed Kingʼs preference for the Exodus as the primary motif in the Civil Rights movement as a major step forward in relations between Christians and Jews. King drew an understanding of the nature of Godʼs involvement with humankind from his background in the black church, which resonated with Heschelʼs concept of Divine pathos, linking the two men intellectually and spiritually. Both were considered prophets, messengers of their time, linked by their commitment to prayer, morality and political activism.
The “missing” figure is meant to encourage the viewer to identify the deleted person. In doing so, those who don’t know who Ralph Bunche is (having always focused on this “famous picture of Heschel and King”) will find out more about Bunche and his strategic work, not only in the Civil Rights movement, but for his late 1940s role in mediation in Palestine which earned him the1950 Nobel Prize. Sometimes less can lead us to more.
It is my hope, that upon reflection as to why an artist would make such an outrageous edit, the viewer would connect my reference to Bunche as juxtaposition of Buncheʼs past award-winning, essential role in Middle East mediation, with his significant “absence” in this 2015 rendition, at a time in our history where such mediation and peace eludes us.
Too often, significant people throughout history have been ignored or forgotten. Not just blacks- in all these years, the “Unidentified Nun” pictured marching has never been named. And, not just blacks and women: in the new film “Selma” where is Heschel?
I have included a photograph of Peter Geffen, founder of the Heschel School, and Moshe Shur taken in 1965. Both men worked closely with King, ultimately assisting with his funeral.
Included too, is a photograph of the late Eduardo Rauch (who lived in Chile at the time of the Selma march) to represent his loving, activist spirit in this modern day rendition. I have tried to honor Edyʼs memory in all 6 of the projects I created during my year as Heschelʼs Eduardo Rauch Artist-in-Residence.  

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