Three faiths meet at the crossroads of art

At San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum, a new exhibition has just gone up on the walls. And the floor and the ceiling.

Now on display through February, “Intersections: Reading the Space” is a collaborative exhibit by three female artists: one Jewish, one Christian, one Muslim. Though they each live on different continents, practice different faiths and spring from different cultures, they came together to create “Intersections.”

“This is a great interfaith intercultural dialogue,” says Connie Wolf, the museum director. “It’s unique and a great model for discussion.”

The three artists are New York-based Jewish painter Jane Logemann, Australian native Irene Barberis, who is Christian, and Iranian-born Muslim Parastou Forouhar, who now lives in Germany.

Earlier this year the show premiered at the Jewish Museum of Australia in Melbourne. Wolf caught the show there and felt it would be just right for the San Francisco space she oversees. The show opened last week at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Linking the artists is their use of holy text as a springboard for artistic expression. All three incorporate into their work scripture from their respective faith traditions, the Hebrew Bible for Logemann, New Testament for Barberis and Koranic verses for Forouhar.

In the case of the latter, one of Forouhar’s most striking pieces is called “Written Carpet,” which consists of large black Farsi lettering painted everywhere on the museum’s floors, walls and ceiling. Her ornamental calligraphy even snakes up and into other works on display.

According to the artists, that kind of aesthetic jostling was part of the plan.

“Art breaks borders,” says Logemann, who was on hand at the museum along with Barberis to oversee installation. “Showing with Irene and Parastou creates a forum through which we can forge a connection of different backgrounds and perhaps engender a better understanding of a complex world.”

Logemann’s work includes a 10-part painting called “The Ten Plagues,” on which she inked the names of the plagues in Hebrew, then washed each in evocative colors. In another, also on 10 canvases, she writes out the Kaddish in Hebrew and transliterated English, each panel darker and more complex than the one before.

Barberis contributes several mixed media pieces, most of which contain verses from the Christian Bible. One piece, entitled “Scroll,” is virtually all script, written out in silicon and suspended from the ceiling, its shadow echoing the text from the Book of Revelations.

Another called “Expanded Expansion” is made of inflated pink PVC sheeting girded with fiberglass strips. From the floor, a looped recording of the artist simulates the sound of air being blown into the sheeting. “It’s got my breath in it,” says Barberis. “It floats.”

All eyes will be on “The Joint Project,” a 12-foot cloth that traveled around the world several times as the artists negotiated a long-distance collaboration. It may be the only work of art to which FedEx was an important contributor.

“I never knew what was coming,” says Logemann, who created circular images comprised of Hebrew words. Barberis painted light striped triangles embroidered with biblical verses, which were echoed by Forouhar’s encroaching Farsi designs.

Barberis initially had the idea for “Intersections” four years ago. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she worried politics would intrude on the exhibition, but she and her partners worked hard to keep it all about art.

Wolf says the exhibition has inspired additional special programming. Schoolchildren from across the Bay Area will take field trips to the museum. Moreover, the local Christian, Muslim and Iranian communities have been invited to attend.

“This exhibition speaks directly to the Contemporary Jewish Museum’s mission,” says Wolf. “We’re very interested in the role contemporary artists can play in bringing people together and creating bridges between cultures, communities and ideas. Art and the process of art making are a unique language that can be used to create dialogue. ‘Intersections’ does just that.”

“Intersections” can be viewed 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays through Feb. 26 at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, 121 Steuart Street, S.F. Tickets: $5. Information: (415) 334-8800.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.