Debra Olin: Every Protection

Exhibition Opening In large-format monoprint collages and a site-specific installation, Debra Olin explores significant moments in the rich culture of Jewish women in the Russian Pale of Settlement. Olin draws on the 1912-14 ethnographic questionnaire produced by S. An-sky, designed to document ways of life and beliefs that he was concerned were rapidly disappearing from the shtetls of Eastern Europe. From the 2087 questions included in the study, Olin’s artwork is inspired by many of the 283 questions relating to pregnancy, childbirth and early childhood. Questions like “Is it considered a protection for a pregnant woman to wear an apron?” and “Is there a belief that one must not place a child in front of a mirror until he gets his first teeth?” illuminate the deep folk traditions of this community. Olin creates a symbolic language to highlight superstitions, precautions, religious practices, and observations that can be translated, recognized and appreciated by people from every culture. The exhibition continues with “From the Oral Torah,” an installation created to hang from the celestial ceiling of the Eldridge Street Synagogue’s Women’s Balcony. Women’s robes, with feet dangling and questions draped over their shoulders, span the divide between the everyday and the sacred. For what could be at once so commonplace and so miraculous as giving birth? This project has been supported by a grant from the Artists’ Resource Trust, a fund of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation