Yiddishland

Yiddishland

A Country Whose Language Has No Military Terminology

The Yiddishland Pavilion debuts at the 59th Venice Biennale this month. Maria Veits and Yevgeniy Fiks, curators of the pavilion, edited this series for ArtsEverywhere, featuring works by Hagar Cygler, Shterna Goldbloom, and Zsuzsi Flohr, along with essays by Raphael Koenig and Anna Elena Torres. The Yiddishland Pavilion is the first independent transnational pavilion bringing together artists and scholars from more than 15 countries who activate Yiddish and diasporic Jewish discourse in contemporary artistic practice. The Pavilion’s activities at the Venice Biennale from April to November 2022 include performances, discussions, presentations of new artworks, physical and digital interventions. By placing the Yiddishland Pavilion into the framework of the Venice Biennale and the system of national pavilions, the project challenges the principle of national division within the biennale. The Yiddishland Pavilion does not concentrate solely on Jewish-related issues; the project is cross-cultural and transnational. Visit the Yiddishland Pavilion website and @yiddishlandpavilion on Instagram for regular updates.

A Country Whose Language Has No Military Terminology

Yiddishland ( ייִדישלאַנד or  אידישלאַנד) is an imaginary country/land/space/territory and a stateless network connected through the Yiddish language and culture. The term “Yiddishland” was coined by Yiddish anarchist literary critic and editor Boruch Rivkin (1883-1945) and has since been widely used to describe a linguistic and cultural space rather than a shared physical territory.  

From its historical birthplace in the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe in the 12th century, the Yiddish language and culture have developed in close contact and cross-pollination with the languages and cultures of their non-Jewish neighbours. The violence of the Holocaust, antisemitic Soviet state policies, and forced assimilation nearly eradicated the Yiddish language in Eastern and Central Europe. Through waves of Jewish migration in the late 19th and 20th centuries, enclaves of Yiddishland have expanded to Western Europe, the Americas, and beyond. Since the 1970s, a new and largely post-vernacular Yiddish culture (Jeffrey Shandler) has started to develop in many, often unexpected, locales around the world and to reappear in music, theatre, literature, TV series, and contemporary art, especially in the U.S. This phenomenon was in parallel to and a continuation of the surviving secular Yiddish culture that descended from pre-War culturati circles of Vilnius, Warsaw, Moscow, and New York. Hence, a map of Yiddishland at the Venice Biennale includes such diverse parts of the world as Lithuania, Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Mexico, China, Japan, and elsewhere.

Constant positioning of Yiddish culture as “Other” to dominant cultures, its portability and fluidity, alongside vanishing stigmatization of Yiddish as a “dialect” of the Holocaust victims, made a return to Yiddish culture possible on new terms. Alternative but also familiar, the new Yiddish culture allows secular Jews and non-Jewish allies to mark their identity without necessarily connecting themselves with religious beliefs or associating with the state of Israel.

This series on Yiddishland coincides with the opening of the first-ever Yiddishland Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Being a fluid and nomadic project that is dispersed between Venice and the virtual world, including ArtsEverywhere, the Yiddishland Pavilion takes place in dialogue with the national pavilions of countries that have histories of Yiddish-speaking Jewish migration.

This series practices collective remembrance, documents consequences of migration and politics of exclusion that target “Otherness,” while presenting a complex yet hopeful vision of the construction of a new intersectional Jewish identity in diaspora. Projects by selected artists and scholars force into the political domain questions of national representation, selection, and inclusion while also making connections between different art scenes and ways to live through shared Jewish and Yiddish history.

Header image from the Shabbos series by Shterna Boldbloom.

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