The George L. Mosse/Laurence A. Weinstein Center for Jewish Studies will host its 8th biennial Conney Conference on Jewish Arts from March 27 to 30 at the Pyle Center. This year’s conference will address the changing landscape of Jewish arts amid a generational shift toward inclusivity.
With 36 speakers from as far away as Bogota, Columbia and Paris, this conference is set to be the largest in its history.
“One of the things that that we are foregrounding in the theme this year is about inclusion, about a fluid understanding of Jewish identity, about the politics of Jewishness as we come to understand that through the arts specifically,” Douglas Rosenberg, the director of the conference and founding director of the Conney project said in an interview with The Daily Cardinal. “Jewishness is not monolithic.”
Started in 2004, the Conney Conference on Jewish Arts uses art to depict Jewish identity throughout history. The project’s website states an interest in broadening this topic across different periods of history, geographic locations and levels of religiosity — through the “visual cultures of art making, scholarship, literature, music and other art related practices.”
In the time since the last conference, held in 2019 in New York, conference organizers understand that the world has changed considerably, with events like the George Floyd protests and the pandemic shifting the way artists view identity. Douglas said he thinks a “sense of urgency” to address the effects of these events is part of what prompted more than 65 submissions — over twice the typical amount — to present at the conference.
“It’s not just an urgency for Jewish people to talk about Jewish things, it’s for Jewish people to really start to define and redefine a commitment to social justice,” Rosenberg said. “There's a whole slew of people entering the discussion that are considerably younger and have a considerably different idea of what Jewishness is for them.”
Part of the theme will represent a commitment to including interpretations of Jewish identity from a variety of perspectives on race, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class and religiosity. The art forms discussed at the conference include graphic novels, dance, theater, music and literature. Featured lectures will include Laurence Reese’s “Btzelem: Towards a Transgender Torah,” Robert Brandwayn’s “Memory, Interdisciplinarity and Geographical Diversity in Jewish Latin American Art” and Jessica Friedman’s “Choreographing Blackness, Jewishness, and Questions of Universality: Janet Collins’s Biblical Modern Dances,” among others.
This year’s keynote speaker, Aimee Rubensteen, told the Cardinal that she is looking forward to Adam McKinney’s performance and Leora Fridman’s lecture on “Fear + Expression in Contemporary Jewish Art Practice.” Rubensteen, who previously worked as an acquisitions curator for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, is an art historian and a writer, as well as the founding art editor of PROTOCOLS, a journal featuring art and writing from across the Jewish diaspora. Her lecture, “Today is Tomorrow’s Archive: Building Scaffolding for Jewish Art,” focuses on some of these projects.
“My talk will explore a framework of time where past, present (and) future converge by focusing on three multimedia artworks that I commissioned for PROTOCOLS. I’ll describe how these artists integrate their past and future into the present in their art through performance, recipes, poetry, photography and collage,” she said. “Drawing from ‘queer time’ and ‘crip time’ literature, I’ll discuss how temporality is integral to understanding Jewish art, archives and the stories we tell.”
Rubensteen’s lecture will conclude by focusing on Web3 in relation to the expansive possibilities for the future of Jewish art. View the full schedule of conference events here.
Honoring Marv Conney’s legacy
Marv Conney, one of the donors for whom the conference is named along with Babe Conney, passed away last March at the age of 94. Georgetown professor Ori Soltes will give his lecture “Transcendent and Interdisciplinary: Butterflies in Holocaust and Post-Holocaust Imagery” on Tuesday in honor of the family.
Conney’s son, David Conney, will represent the family on a Zoom call following Soltes’s lecture. Last May, he said Marv’s goal in creating the Conney project was to “look at Judaism in America through contemporary music, Broadway, film, television, dance, literature and painting — and how each art-form can tell a Jewish story. And in America, of course, a Jewish story, at its essence, involves the American dream, optimism, opportunity, diversity, tolerance, social responsibility, social justice, resilience and survival.”
This article was updated at 2:42 p.m. to reflect Rubensteen's current work history.