Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek – Chester, CT
CBSRZ Art Gallery and Books & Bagels
Siblings Vlad Smolkin (artist) and Victoria Smolkin (author and Russian History Professor) will be joining forces on Sunday, November 11, at 4 pm, to share their work with the public at a new and revamped CBSRZ Art Gallery Opening/Books & Bagels talk at Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek in Chester. The public is invited to attend and there is no charge for this event.
Sharing space at CBSRZ seems to be a highly appropriate thing for this brother and sister to do, since each of them is heavily invested in space of one sort or the other. Vlad Smolkin describes himself as a VERY Reformed Jew with strong cultural ties to his Jewish heritage. He believes that "The essence of all religions is wonder, and Judaism embraces that essence...Art-making is a faith system that weaves in and out of all religions." Smolkin's work begs the question "What is faith...what do we structure our faith around...ideas, physical objects..." His work references art history such as the Hudson River School of Art in which artists see G-d through idyllic landscapes.
Although serious at its core, Smolkin's art is often whimsical, almost "nonsensical" (Smolkin's comment), for example, his outer space series in which he envisions how Judaism might exist on other planets such as Mars and the transfer of the Western Wall to Mars or the last vestige of our Jewish humanity being the cultivation of flowers on Mars.
Smolkin has been making art that relates to Judaism since childhood. In 1988 four-year-old Smolkin and his family immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union, in part because of their experience as Jews who were treated especially badly as both religious and ethnic outsiders. Although he did not grow up religious, his "...family history is marked by intolerance, oppression and murder based on the fact that they were Jewish." Now, living in the United States, Smolkin feels "...a strong attachment to his ethnic and cultural Jewishness and to the history of his family."
"Questions of faith and identity are always present in my work - especially because, for me, being an artist is itself a faith system and world view, a perspective on life's big questions and an attitude about people and things. I do not keep kosher. I do not subscribe fully to the stories of the Tanakh, and I struggle with the concept of a unifying G-d force. With that said, I do not consider myself to be any less Jewish than more traditional Jews. The works that I will present at CBSRZ explore the contradictions and complexities of this attitude using humor and an idiosyncratic approach to art making. Self-criticism, irony and humor have always been central to Jewish life and culture, and there is a rich history of Jewish artists, comedians and musicians doing just this. I see myself as working within and continuing this tradition. My works often depict unconventional meeting points and overlaps between groups and cultures - to explore commonality rather than difference in the most unexpected places."
Victoria Smolkin, a professor of history at Wesleyan University, will be bringing her new book "A Sacred Space is Never Empty", in which she explores the history of atheism in the Soviet Union and shows how, in different ways during differing periods of Soviet history, atheism was reimagined as an alternative cosmology that in the end failed to take hold and replace the religious beliefs that never really disappeared during the Soviet period.
"A Sacred Space is Never Empty" has been greeted with critical acclaim. Paul W. Werth, author of "The Tsar's Foreign Faiths: Toleration and the Fate of Religious Freedom in Imperial Russia", wrote: "This splendid book skillfully reveals the changing nature of religion in the USSR, the limits of secularization under Communism, and the important place of spirituality in the twentieth century. Smolkin exposes the striking irony of how soviet authorities found themselves trying to replicate the spiritual and emotional offerings of religion even as they sought to destroy it."
Denis Kozlov, author of The Readers of "Novyi Mir"; Coming to Terms with the Stalinist Past" stated that "This is a very important book, highly innovative and superbly researched. Smolkin has written nothing less than a history of the making - and subsequent unmaking - of soviet atheism. A must-read."
Vlad and Victoria will be sharing their work with us in our space at CBSRZ on Sunday afternoon, November 11th, beginning at 4 pm. This opening reception is open to the public at no charge. Vlad's art will be on display, available for sale, in our CBSRZ Gallery and Victoria's book will also be available both for sale and for autographing after her talk on the origin of and impetus behind her book. She has written that her historian's interest in the forces that shape human experience led her to focus on the institutions and structures of power that shape culture and everyday life: politics, ideology, and religion. That in turn led her to investigate how modern states, in their efforts to mobilize citizens for particular political and economic goals, shape lived experience through various ideological and cultural projects. Certainly, an important, topical and thought-provoking subject in our day. But one that will be leavened by Vlad's whimsical art and the always ample refreshments and beverages, this time thematically adapted to include blintzes, blinis and, who knows, perhaps a little vodka?
Vlad Smolkin's exhibit can be viewed Monday through Friday, 10am - 3pm from November, through the first three weeks of January, 2019. CBSRZ is located at 55 East Kings Highway in Chester. For more information, contact the CBSRZ office 860-526-8920.