How Antisemitism Led me to Art
My Journey with Art and Antisemitism
Hi, my name is Alex Woz, I'm 24 years old, and live in southern California. I've been creating art since before I can even remember- as the child of an immigrant parents from South America- namely my mother, who had to shelve her dreams of becoming an esteemed artist and fashion designer, I was wholesomely encouraged by her to study art and become completely immersed in the practice.
It wasn't until I got older that I started to experience antisemitism- not only through lone incidents of vulgarity, but alarmingly from people I had considered friends for years. Growing up in one of the most antisemitic cities in the west coast, I was subject to daily abuse and ridicule from my classmates, accompanied by a deep and expansive nazi-punk culture endorsed by those around me. In fact, 4 of the 9 kids I had invited to my barmitzvah at age 13 turned out to be neo-nazi skinheads only 5 years later. I would ultimately find refuge in laughing through the jokes, as I unknowingly absorbed the abuse and ingrained it into how i saw myself and my community.
Swastikas were drawn in my textbooks, rocks were thrown as my parents came to pick me up, and more. These constant acts of antisemitism degraded my spirit for years, which built an unhealthy relationship to my Jewishness- until a few years later, I reflected upon my experiences. I pondered on why people fixated on one aspect of my identity over the other. It did not matter that I was Argentinean- but it did matter that I was a Jew, and I hadn't even connected with that part of myself in a personal way- it was a label that I was reminded of through others.
I decided to do something about it- I got in touch with my local Chabad, began studying Torah, and immersed myself in the Jewish community of not-too-distant Los Angeles, learning as much as I could from my peers. I went to Israel for the first time in 2022.
When I experienced antisemitism growing up, I had always wished that I had something to remind me of the beauty of being a Jew. Growing up also an artist, I realized that I could converge my love and practice of art with my love and practice of Jewish identity as well as Torah.
I created my first Jewish themed designs in May 2021 amidst the war between Hamas and Israel. With so much misinformation and bigotry being hurled toward the Jewish community, including a 600% increase in hate crimes in my immediate area to the Jewish community, I knew I had to use my skills to help remedy those around me. I created my first three pieces, and have been going strong since then.
During that time, I asked myself a very key question that is still relevant to my ork today- and that was "Am I a Jewish artist? Or an artist who is Jewish?"
An artist who is Jewish is an artist who can separate their Jewish identity from their artworks- it is mainly irrelevant to how they express themselves. A Jewish artist, on the other hand, is someone who cannot divorce their experiences as a Jew from their self expression. It is how they experience the world, and thus, how they reflect that experience in their artwork.
I knew my answer immediately. I am a Jewish artist.
My mission is to empower the Jewish community to retake control of our own narrative, and to kindle a healthy relationship between ourselves and our identity. Just because Jews have created opportunities to represent ourselves in things like comedy and movies does not mean we have achieved the prime goal of representation- oftentimes, we represent ourselves poorly, playing on age old tropes and stereotypes to get laughs from mostly non-Jewish audiences. This is mainly due to internalized antisemitism that we have absorbed from the world around us- similarly to laughing through antisemitic jokes.
These tropes wear thin, and eventually grow legs, and have long-term repercussions to our community. Through empowering ourselves to view our identity, ancestry, spirituality, ethnicity, and history through fresh unencumbered lens, we can begin to heal the internalized antisemitism that leads us to represent ourselves poorly for the sake of acceptance.
This is why the usage of antiquated photographs as a collage material are so pervasive in my work- they are a powerful and concrete reminder that all types of Jews exist, and they often break far beyond the bounds of what age old stereotypes and poor representation about Jews suggests. These are/were real people, with real stories. Oftentimes by viewing the works, we are forced to reconcile our own narratives within us that have been constructed by others. What are Jews supposed to look like? What are Jews supposed to wear? How are Jews supposed to act? These are all questions that I hope to subtly answer through use of photo collage.
Visuals, imagery, and propaganda have been used as a destructive force for the Jewish people ever since the inception of the Diaspora. From Nazi-era cartoons, to weaponized infographics, visuals have proven their prowess at communicating ideas and spreading them efficiently. What if we take this idea, and flip it on its' head? What if we take the extreme influence of imagery and use it in a way that inspires, empowers, and emboldens our community instead of in a way that degrades us? That is my mission, forever, and I will always keep working to ensure that no Jew has to connect to their identity in the same way I did- through hatred's eye.