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Jewish artists throughout the ages have had to contend with the Biblical prohibition against worshipping idols. In "Idol Worship," a new exhibition that opened Monday at The Jewish Museum in New York, the apotheosis of contemporary idols becomes the subject of the art works on display.
"This exhibition certainly has a provocative title, which resonates with the work of contemporary artists who perceive themselves as iconoclasts," exhibition curator Andrew Ingall told The Jerusalem Post.
The exhibition contains video works by Israeli musician and artist Ariela Plotkin and by Canadian artist Benny Nemerofsky Ramsay, both of whom use music videos and celebrity pop culture as a means of transgressing sexual, religious and ethnic conventions.
In a work called Audition Tape, Nemerofsky recorded a fictitious audition tape for a controversial Russian pop band, in which he confesses details about his personal history to satirically show how someone can forsake his or her identity in exchange for approval, love and adulation.
Plotkin's video work Aishet Chayil (Woman of Valor) makes reference to the traditional Jewish hymn that husbands sing to their wives on Shabbat.
Yet the hymn's praise of industriousness, charity, honor and wisdom is a far cry from the self-portrait Plotkin presents in this work.
"You see me walking on a treadmill," Plotkin told the Post Monday from her home in Tel Aviv. "I'm pretty full-figured, and I'm wearing a tight outfit and walking while eating ice cream." The 30-year-old Plotkin said she connected to the idea of "idol worship" because she always portrays herself as a larger-than-life character.
"I present myself as the kind of figure you see in movies, commercials, or advertising billboards," she said. "But whereas the models are picture-perfect and artificial-looking, and are treated as idols, in my work you can see that the illusion of a perfect woman wearing high heels, who doesn't sweat and doesn't get tired, is not quite real."
Plotkin's work, according to Ingall, rebels against both the traditional Jewish idea of womanhood and the contemporary media's glorification of unrealistic ideals of beauty.
"She challenges the portrayal of women both in mainstream media and within Jewish orthodoxy," he said.
Plotkin's work is accompanied by a song from the soundtrack of the film Pretty Woman, as adapted by Schlock Rock, an Orthodox band that performs parodic renditions of popular songs while replacing the original lyrics with words in praise of Biblical heroines.
According to Ingall, the group has a serious educational mission - "to teach Torah through pop music."
"They sing about all these women of valor, such as the prophet Devora, which is why I decided to call the work Aishet Chayil," Plotkin explained.
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