Otiyot

October 30, 2008 - January 4, 2009

Leola Bermanzohn produces a temporary, site-specific mural in the Museum's basement lobby, which responds to the script of the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as the spiritual and sacred significance of the letters themselves. Bermanzohn reinvents the Hebrew alphabet in a colorful manner inspired by ancient calligraphy and contemporary street art.

In the vision of Leola Bermanzohn, Hebrew letters are “free agents” independent of writing, asserting their unique qualities through form, color, and metaphor. The Jewish Museum invited Bermanzohn to paint a temporary, site-specific mural in response to the presentation of The Dead Sea Scrolls: Mysteries of the Ancient World on the third floor. Between October 27 and December 4, the artist will work on-site, painting directly on the museum wall. The public may observe the process Thursday nights. Bermanzohn creates an entirely new style of Hebrew lettering informed by Jewish mysticism, traditional calligraphy, and urban graffiti.

The twenty-two letters (otiyot) of the Hebrew alphabet are painted in order, from right to left, across three rows. Within this linear structure, Bermanzohn developed a visual system to connect the alphabet to spiritual concepts and natural forms. Viewers should note the color scheme calls attention to the seven special letters that have their own attached tag, or decorative notation. The highlights and shadows strengthen the composition, allowing each letter to present itself in space while remaining mindful of its dependence on other letters for the conveyance of meaning. While the art of the letter has been a staple of Jewish visual culture for thousands of years, Otiyot imbues the Hebrew alphabet with the social consciousness of a mural and the individualist expression of street art.