This past week, Jackie had the opportunity to interview artist and activist, Josef. Josef specializes in intermedia work that challenges social constructs and redefines Tikkun Olam. Read on to find out where in DC you can spot Josef’s work, and learn about his upcoming projects.
Jackie: You work locally as an artist and arts organizer here in DC, what kind of art do you create?
Josef: I create immersive art experiences for my audiences – that is, intermedia work that expresses the themes and concepts I’m addressing across various artistic forms all at once, such as audio/video, live performance, installation/sculpture, as well as more traditional forms of visual art folks are used to seeing. I want people to engage with my projects on a fully interactive level, allowing their own experiences and biases to inform their subjective takeaways from the work I’ve created, oftentimes in collaboration with other artists, and exhibited in what I always aim to be really creative, contrarian ways that shift paradigms and expectations of what art can be and do.
Jackie: Where can we see some of your art?
Josef: The majority of my projects these days are rooted in the ephemeral and experiential, so unfortunately, that means you have to catch my art live and in person! However, in 2010, I was contacted by the DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities to contribute to a neighborhood public art initiative, and a piece I designed titled Clean Slate was purchased by the District of Columbia and put on permanent installation inside the fountain plaza on 14th Street NW in Columbia Heights. Clean Slate is meant to represent a chalkboard – as a “clean slate”, if you will, which is exactly how I perceive the rebirth and revitalization of Columbia Heights following the riots that shook the area in the 1960s. The messaging of Clean Slate encourages residents to leave their mark on the mosaic’s black tiles using sidewalk chalk, while simultaneously reminding viewers to also leave their mark by helping to create a sense of community in the neighborhood. It’s always fun to walk by the piece when I’m in Columbia Heights to see things like yard sale announcements, poems, and doodles from kids written on it.
Jackie: What first inspired you to get involved in activism?
Josef: Without a doubt, my Judaism inspired me to get involved in activism. In college, I was really engaged in activism on the crisis in the Darfur region of what is now the Republic of South Sudan, where a genocide was taking place for many years. As Jews, we are told to heed the call of “never again” when it comes to crimes against humanity, so I coordinated tzedek campaigns with my campus Hillel group to help raise awareness and inspire action on these issues. I think pursuit of tikkun olam is an imperative for the Jewish community and the world in which we live. It’s definitely something that inspires my work as an artist, too. I want my work to transcend societal constructs and bring the humanity back to the humanities.
Jackie: How did you first get involved with a Wider Bridge?
Josef: They commissioned me for my first internationally-focused community arts project last summer to creatively interpret the lived experiences of LGBTQ people in Israel and Palestine for audiences back home. As an artist, I was curious to find cultural connections to our queer communities here in the United States with those I encountered in the Middle East, and I wanted to create some kind of project for A Wider Bridge to highlight the things that relate to all of us who exist beyond the global heteronormative hegemony. Upon my return to DC, I presented the distillation of my experiences abroad as a one-night-only salon-style “happening” titled TAKE OFF THE MASC, curated around my own interests in the concept of a global LGBTQ community and the masculinity paradox gay men struggle with in our collective culture worldwide.
Jackie: You are now involved with planning the Beyond the Bridge cocktail reception, what is this event about and who should think about attending?
Josef: Yes! I’m on the host committee for the Beyond the Bridge reception, and our event takes place on Saturday, March 19, from 8:30 to 10:30pm at Acadiana in Mount Vernon Square. This will be an informal kick-off to AIPAC’s annual conference, opening the following day, and we’ve assembled a great group of speakers to talk about the latest in LGBTQ advocacy in Israel and around the world. We’ll also have an open bar, selections from Acadiana’s amazing Cajun-Creole menu, and live entertainment that I’m keeping under wraps for now. Come see what it will be!
Jackie: Who is your favorite Jew?
Josef: My favorite Jew is my great friend Daniel. Neither of us are all that religious per se, but he inspires me to stay connected to the culture and find meaningful intersections with my life and Judaism. I like to say he’s my spiritual big brother!
Jackie: What is your favorite Jewish food?
Josef: Mofletta! It’s kind of crepe generally topped with honey, butter, or in my case, Nutella, it’s typically the first leavened food Moroccan Jews eat after Passover. It’s also a lot of fun to make.
Jackie: Finish the sentence: When the Jews gather…
Josef: You’ll feel an instant sense of community. There’s a shared fundamental connection that unites us all, and I think it’s truly remarkable.