Excerpt from "If I Give You My Sorrows" by LABA choreographer Jo Kreiter, with dancers Natalya Shoaf, Sonshere Giles and Jhia Jackson (Photo/Jack Beutler)
Excerpt from "If I Give You My Sorrows" by LABA choreographer Jo Kreiter, with dancers Natalya Shoaf, Sonshere Giles and Jhia Jackson (Photo/Jack Beutler)

LABA’s latest artists showcase dares to touch on Jewish taboos

After a year of poring through Jewish texts tied to the topic of “taboo,” 10 Jewish artists are ready to share their responses to the forbidden.

The group took part in LABA Bay’s annual fellowship program, which brings local artists together to study Jewish texts and create new artwork on a theme. This year’s LABA gallery show, which is set for Nov. 11 and 12 at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, features art and live performances that address religious, gender, sexual and other kinds of taboos.

According to LABA, taboos play a central role in the psyches of Jews and of artists to “foment desire and articulate fear and shame.” In Judaism, the concept goes all the way back to the biblical story of creation when the first humans defied God and ate fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Mia Feuer, a Canadian-born sculptor and hockey player, chose to explore the “wild release that comes with consensual humiliation” in her sculpture titled “Shmirah.” Forest Reid, a sound designer and composer, created an interactive installation about gambling that resembles a “Gematria slot machine.” Danielle Freiman made a series of illustrations that deal with chronic and incurable medical conditions.

Forest Reid's installation, titled "Dreydl: Zol Zayn Mit Mazel." (Photo/Courtesy LABA)
Forest Reid’s installation, titled “Dreydl: Zol Zayn Mit Mazel.” (Photo/Courtesy LABA)

The Nov. 11 live performances will include a dance excerpt from choreographer Jo Kreiter, a new episode of Lauren Schiller’s “Relativity” podcast and a talk by LABA BAY teacher Sam Shonkoff, an assistant professor of Jewish studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.

The Nov. 12 performances will feature a presentation about “transgressive” art dealer Alfred Flechtheim from filmmaker Peter Stein (who is also former executive director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival), an installation/performance by interdisciplinary artist Jennifer Kaufman, a reading from Freiman and a talk by Deena Aranoff, another LABA teacher and the faculty director for Jewish studies at GTU.

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“At the heart of LABA we’re really trying to expand what Jewish art can be and the way our ancient texts can infuse that,” said Elissa Strauss, LABA Bay’s artistic director.

The “TABOO” showcase comes amid the turmoil in Israel following the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre and hostage-taking and Israel’s subsequent war against Hamas. In a statement, LABA said there is value in sharing art in the time of war.

“Art is not trivial in these impossible moments, but a necessity, a way to see the world anew and imagine different realities,” the organization said.

LABA, which is Hebrew for “lava,” has already announced the theme for next year’s fellowship: “night.” Bay Area-based Jewish artists who work in any discipline can apply for the program, which immerses artists in texts from the Torah, Talmud, Mishnah and Zohar. The application deadline is Nov. 17.

“It’s sex and it’s fear and it’s wild and it’s tame and it’s the psyche itself,” Strauss said of the new theme. “Night is sometimes when the deepest truths are revealed.”

LABA, which describes itself as a “laboratory for Jewish culture,” started at the 14th Street Y in New York City’s East Village in 2007 and launched a hub in the East Bay in 2019. Last year, the local group moved its headquarters from the JCC of the East Bay to the Firehouse in San Francisco.


Nov. 11-12. Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with performances from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the 970 Gallery of the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, 901 Minnesota St. $10 for gallery entrance, $18 for performances. (Nov. 11 performances are already sold out.)

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.