I don’t like to pick fights Especially not with basically good folks who also happen to be the children or children in law of family friends, but last week I had no choice.
Maybe I’m hopelessly naïve, but when I learned that my mother’s friend’s daughter in law was exhibiting photographs of Haredi women on the women’s beach at her lower Manhattan art gallery, I freaked.
Where did she–the gallery owner, get her nerve? Ditto for the photographer.
Or could it be that the photographer requested permission before she shot?
Even if she had, I can’t imagine a single Haredi women who would have consented to being photographed in beach gear.
We Haredim cover up. We even top our bathing suits, one piece of course, with housedresses. This is an expression of self respect, a statement that our bodies are private.
Since I couldn’t sue her—amazingly, neither she nor the photographer violated any civil law, I did the next best thing. I wrote the gallery owner an email. I tried to be very polite. After all, she is after all the daughter in law of a family friend.
Here’s an excerpt.
….. please withdraw this exhibit. ….Were these women to know that their images were on display in an art gallery they would be horrified. ….this is a profound violation of privacy, engendering much the same emotions you might feel were a photographer to enter your home without your consent and photograph you during your most intimate moments.
While making art is important ….the artist must first aim to do no harm. This exhibit violates the personal integrity of the people it purports to “understand”.
And she replied
We have received many emails and phone calls from people who are very upset and angry over the photographs;
At least I wasn’t the only one…
We have received even more thanking us for showing a side of the world they (the viewers. mine) might otherwise have not seen. The images are sympathetic and tender….
In it’s review, the New Yorker said that the photos displayed a “joy in physicality the subjects can’t fully express.”
Is that “understanding” or just a repeat of the old anti Haredi canard about how “repressed” we are in our “exotic” (the New Yorker’s word) beach gear?
The gallery owner did not accede to my request and I know why. It was because our basic assumptions about life, our bottom lines had diverged.
That is sad because all of us, the gallery owner, the photographer, the women on the beach all stood together at Sinai on that fateful day so many thousands of years ago. The message we got is imprinted in our DNA. It’s part of us. But sometimes it’s hard to hear, drowned out by the static of the world, which our sages tell us is Olam Hasheker, a world of lies.
My gallery owner friend got caught up in the lies. She forgot what is true.
I don’t fault her. It’s hard to avoid it.
I wish her blessing, success, joy and most important clarity, so she can reconnect to truth.