Hineni. Doni Silver Simons (acrylic, canvas strips, felt tip pens; 3 paintings; each 4 x 4, 2009-2011)
Artist Doni Silver Simons presented her latest work, entitled Hineni, at the opening reception of the Jewish World Watch event, “Global Soul.” The event, held February 1 at Sinai Temple in Westwood (Los Angeles, CA), honored Jewish World Watch Co-Founder and President, Janice Kamenir-Reznick, for her lifetime of activism and innovation. It was through the long friendship between Kamenir-Reznick and Silver Simons that the commission came about. The “marking” – four parallels and a diagonal – that is common in much of Silver Simon’s work reminded Kamenir-Reznick of the counting of bodies; a way of remembering the victims of genocide around the world.
“Janice came to a show of mine,” says Silver Simons, “and we started to talk about what that symbol – that tally mark – actually represented, and how it could speak universally to people around the world. She asked me if I could design a project for her organization. I said I’d love to do a project and I’d like to do a lot of cuts in it and then make it interactive, because as soon as a piece is interactive, people own the work. Once they own the work they become activists. This is not a passive piece. I mean, I could do this myself in the studio and it would be very impressive to look at but it wouldn’t have the same emotional endeavor that it has, and it wouldn’t have the activist quality of engagement.”
Hineni, which is a Hebrew word meaning, “Here I am,” is also resonant for many of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem into which the faithful insert their prayers written on small strips of paper. In a similar way, Hineni is a prayer, incorporating the hopes of people around the world in the artwork. For Silver Simons, the cuts in the canvas are, as she put it, “about piercing barriers” that humans have established to “end with an open space that is hopeful – that is about the decency of humanity.”
“Hineni embodies the belief that a better future is possible for the women and children of Darfur and Congo,” says Silver Simons. “Hundreds of strips have been inscribed and placed in the canvases. It is powerfully fitting that the final strips inserted into this global, interactive work on the night of Global Soul will be those written only a week ago by women and children of Congo.
These paintings confront the viewer with the pain of people in Darfur and the Congo in a way that not only points to a more hopeful future but also engages the viewer in the creation of that future. They draw the viewer in, inviting participation and even action. Yet this triptych is just the beginning of the world that Silver Simons has spent more than three decades creating. While this series of pieces have elements of Silver Simons’ earlier work – the hash marks, the cutting – and evoke that same open spaces, they don’t appear to access the deepest part of the artist which her earlier work so clearly does. Perhaps because it was commissioned or because she didn’t have the opportunity to encounter the women and children of the Congo, the passion of her other work is less evident here.
What is profoundly consistent with her earlier work is the sense of time – the strips of canvas as eternal prayers that will be on earth long after we are all gone, as a marker in time.
Elysabeth Bell is an artist living and working in Los Angeles, California. An exhibit of her original work will open at The Hive in Silver Lake on February 20. Her work can be seen at elysabethbell.wordpress.com.