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Press Release

The Contemporary Jewish Museum to Present Cara Levine: To Survive I Need You to Survive

Thursday, February 2, 2023 (San Francisco, CA) — The Contemporary Jewish Museum (The CJM) is pleased to present the solo exhibition Cara Levine: To Survive I Need You to Survive, curated by CJM Assistant Curator Qianjin Montoya. The exhibition, on view February 16-July 30, brings together a series of multimedia works by the Los Angeles-based artist, who received her MFA at the California College of the Arts. Through video, sculpture, and installation-based works Cara Levine explores topics such as systemic racism, ​​​​antisemitism, climate change, and the ongoing trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic, offering avenues for expressions of grief and regeneration. A Community Opening Celebration will be held at The CJM on February 16 from 5-8 p.m., and is free and open to the public. 

With curiosity and openness, Levine’s practice explores grief, empathy, and equity through sculpture, video, and socially engaged art. “While Levine is dealing with painful and complex topics, she is also creating work that focuses on the communal aspect of grief and, in consequence, healing,” said exhibition curator Qianjin Montoya. “Through her practice Levine aims to bring deepened awareness to troubling topics, while also creating space for action and progress, with the aim of creating the kind of connection and hope that comes from leaning on and learning from one another.” 

The title of the exhibition is borrowed from the artwork TO SURVIVE I NEED YOU TO SURVIVE (2020), created by Levine in response to mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and at Marshall Country High School in Benton, Kentucky in 2018. Levine attended an interfaith service with First AME Church and Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles during which both congregations and choirs joined in the gospel song by Hezekiah Walker, “I Need You to Survive.” After this deeply meaningful experience of communal grieving, Levine was inspired to create the sculpture to communicate what she felt to be an essential truth: “for me to survive, I need you to survive.” Levine noted that — as Jewish people, queer people, people of color, and many other marginalized people know — no one is able to survive oppression and hatred without the direct action and love of one another. It is in this spirit of interconnectedness, mutual support, and advocacy that this exhibition is grounded. 

The exhibition will also feature Carve; The Mystic is Nourished From This Sphere (2023), a site-specific installation at The CJM. Carve was conceived of by Levine as a vessel for community healing, and takes the form of a hole constructed in the gallery wall. Visitors are invited to submit a note sharing a reflection on anything they may be grieving in their lives, from the passing of a loved one to the trauma of systemic injustices and the threat of climate change, to the more nuanced grieving that comes from diverse and disparate lived experiences. The hole serves as a starting point for a symbolic adaptation of the practice of shiva—the week-long mourning period in Judaism following the death of a loved one. In the week leading up to the opening of this exhibition, Levine will engage in a seven-day ritual inspired by shiva in which she will carve the notes of grief into the surface of the hole. Over the course of the exhibition, the artist will periodically return to The CJM to carve new notes into the surface of the hole, making the artwork an ongoing site for collaboration between the artist and the public. The original project that inspired this work, DIG: A Hole to Put Your Grief In​,​ will also be represented through video documentation in the exhibition. 

“Through this exhibition, I offer multiple pathways for grappling with and accepting many kinds of pain. For me, the process of grieving begins with embodied experience and questioning: What does grief feel like today? What feels irreconcilable? How can I move through and better understand this condition?” reflected Levine. “The creative response is equally variable, making space for devotion, labor, and even play. I hope this work brings viewers closer to their own processes of engaging with this wild and unpredictable world.” 

​Also on view will be This Is Not A Gun (2016-present), an evolving, socially engaged artwork of over 300 objects that aims to broaden a national conversation around racial profiling police brutality and accountability. The project was inspired by a list Levine found in Harper's Magazine titled “Trigger Warning,” which named objects mistaken for guns in civilian shootings by police in the United States, and shed light on the thread of racism that ran through these shootings. Levine embarked on a major sculptural work, where she began to carve each of the 23 items on the list from wood — a wrench, a hairbrush, a Bible — in her studio as a ritual of grief and mourning. She then expanded the work to include public workshops, which​,​ ​since 2020, have been ​co-directed by Oakland-based artist Angela Hennessy. In collaboration with community activists, participants are invited to make replicas of objects, learn the stories of the victims in these shootings, and engage in dialogue about racial violence. Each object created at these workshops is added to the project’s archive. In addition to the workshops, the This Is Not A Gun project includes a publication by the same title (Sming Sming Books), with essays by 40 artists, writers, healers, and activists. In the introduction to the third edition Levine writes, “I feel hopeful that this book has fostered understanding, compassion, and community dialogue around this collective and ongoing tragedy . . . My greatest wish is for this work to be rendered unnecessary.”  

The CJM will also host workshops with the artist and some of her collaborators, and will present a series of installations and sculptural works that deal with personal and collective practices around grief and mourning, climate change, and the transitory nature of everyday and ritual objects. Taken together, the works offer a poignant reflection on some of the most complex issues facing the world today. 

Public Programs

Community Opening Celebration for Cara Levine: To Survive I Need You to Survive
Thursday, February 16, 2023 | 5-8 p.m.
Free and open to the public

Join us for an evening of conversation and art to celebrate Cara Levine: To Survive I Need You to Survive, the highly-anticipated first museum solo exhibition of California-based artist Cara Levine, at this community opening celebration. Hear from the artist in person during a conversation with exhibition curator Qianjin Montoya, then head to the galleries to explore artworks that draw on Jewish tradition and social practice to employ creativity as a path to healing. Enjoy a light nosh, explore art, and discover new insights into the artwork as we welcome the exhibition to The CJM.

This Is Not A Gun Workshop with Cara Levine and Angela Hennessy
Saturday, April 22 | 2-5 p.m.
Free with advance registration; space is limited

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Cara Levine: To Survive I Need You to Survive, this workshop was developed as an extension of Levine’s studio practice and is a part of the multidisciplinary artwork This Is Not A Gun (TINAG). In this workshop led by artists Cara Levine and Angela Hennessy, participants will create replicas in clay of objects mistaken for guns during police shootings of civilians. The replicas will become part of the TINAG archive of over 300 objects created by Levine and past workshop participants. Through embodied creative practice, participants will share in discourse on the power of collective making as a means to intervene socially in cycles of violence and injustice.

Additional public programs to be announced.

About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

For over thirty years The CJM has engaged audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. In 2008, The Museum opened a new building designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, providing a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in educational activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase L’Chaim (“to life”), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The CJM is generously provided by Craig Newmark Philanthropies; Bank of America; Gaia Fund; Grants for the Arts; Irving and Eleanor Jaffe Foundation; Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Joyce B. Linker; Alexandra O. Moses; The Bernard Osher Foundation; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Ruth S. Stein; and Roselyne C. Swig.

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