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Power Portraits

“Alios Itzhak” (The World Stage: Israel) a portrait by Kehinde Wiley, on display at the Jewish Museum in New York, NY.

By Cantor Katie Oringel, Temple Sinai, Toronto, ON

What is the purpose of art? Our campers shared a variety of ideas: for people to look at, to be pretty, to tell a story, to express yourself, for nothing….

Kehinde Wiley was recently lauded for his portrait of President Barak Obama. In his collection, The World Stage: Israel, Wiley explores Israel through the lens of Jewish and Arab Israelis of colour. During Project Barak, some of our teens explored this collection and discussed the histories of Ethiopian immigration to Israel and the challenges they still face within Israeli society. Wiley suggests that ‘art is the story of the story of the story.’ As it relates to Israel, there was the story he thought he knew about Israel and then the one he learned while he was there and ultimately the one he depicted in his portraits. This story of Israel was new for our teens. With each new layer of Israel they peel back, the deeper their understanding and relationship to our homeland.

The goal of each Wiley portrait is to depict a black man full of pride and power. One image we dissected had a recreation of a paper cut mizrach from the 18th century in the background. Wiley painted what someone meticulously carved out of paper so many years ago.

To create our own power portraits, we first had to strike our own pose of power. Some stood as if on water skis while others had a superman-esque quality. Surrounding our image, we cut paper using the same methods of centuries ago. This fine knife work required a meaningful level of focus and maturity under the watchful eye of counselors and staff. The final products were unique and…art!