“Rosh Hashanah 5782 begins a Shmita year, a year of agricultural rest in the Jewish cycle. In this post-pandemic era of climate crisis, we are more aware than ever of the impact and connection of our every action. For the new year, consider this ritual: Take a pomegranate seed. Before eating it, recite a blessing and make a promise for how your actions will protect the earth. Repeat with each seed.”
Shirah Rubin is a multidisciplinary artist based in Boston. As a 2021 recipient of the CJP Arts and Culture grant, she is launching the “Wisdom Exchange” art project. This interactive installation of 613 ceramic jars will collect letters written to the next generation of the Boston Jewish community and store the collected wisdom, reflecting our core values.
Through her diverse artistic endeavors, which include installations, sculptural ceramics, and public art, Shirah invents three-dimensional worlds that explore memory and the challenges posed by its fragile nature. She is originally from the Washington, D.C., area and studied studio art at the University of Delaware. Shirah has worked at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Israel Museum and Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem, Hillel at Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design, and Gann Academy.
Shirah has been dazzled by clay’s responsiveness, especially in the ways that ceramics blur the distinctions between fine art, design, and craft. While she was in college, she was influenced by the concept of wabi-sabi as a result of traveling to Japan. That philosophy cultivates finding beauty in that which is imperfect and impermanent. Shirah is delighted by clay because it is both fragile and strong, easily capturing memory through tactile imprints.
Visit Shirah’s portfolio site.
How does your connection to Jewish community influence your art?
Being Jewish is central to my identity because I find a sense of belonging and responsibility in being part of the community and the unfolding of Jewish history. Judaism provides me with a community in which I can express the values of helping others and contributing in small ways to be partners of change to make the world better. I believe that each person is made b’tzelem elohim, in the Divine image of God, and to involve people in the creative process is a spiritual act.
Jewish ritual provides me with a structure and an invitation to mark transitions, heal from loss, and honor celebratory milestones. My Jewish life involves asking myself: How do I create a dialogue between ancient sources and my present experience, with the challenge of reinventing ritual rooted in tradition? The community is my partner and witness as I braid the experience of—as author Vanessa Ochs phrases it—being a “guardian of continuity and the agent of change.”
Finish this thought: In order to create, I need…
Music and quiet. Solitude and play. My sketchbook and lined journal. A big empty table. A poem of the day. Cinnamon chocolate on days when I need to tame the inner critic.
What’s your next artistic project or challenge?
I look forward to launching “The Listening Chair Project: A Yizkor Companion,” that invites families to ask questions about their families of origin, to share memories, stories, and videos that celebrate a family’s defined values and connect the stories from the past to the present. I will be sculpting chairs that will be used as a movie screen for home movies. The intention is for this interactive sculpture to create a new ritual object that invites regular family movie nights before Jewish holidays and create opportunities for reflection. I will engage families in the option to co-create the family videos utilizing my model of video editor as genealogist.
Learn more about CJP’s arts and culture initiative.