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Seven new things to see from the revamped Jewish Museum

Head of collections ESTHER GYORKI reveals some key pieces of contemporary and heritage Jewish culture.
Ruby Kraner-Tucci
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A painting showing an old married couple at a kitchen table with orange, yellow and brown flowers in the background

Image: Ruby Kraner-Tucci/The Jewish Independent.

Published: 28 February 2024

Last updated: 21 March 2024

With a collection of more than 25,000 works — from portraits and ceramics, photographs and textiles — deciding what to showcase and what to leave out has not been a straightforward task for the team redesigning the Jewish Museum of Australia (JMA) in Melbourne.

One solution is the use of an annual theme to help guide the curation of the museum's new offering. This year, the theme is "music, rhythm and movement".

Head of collections Esther Gyorki was struck by many special pieces never seen before as she worked on the museum's revamp over the past three months. She is also exciting by the new way familiar objects have been curated to tell different stories and enable more interactive experiences. Here are some of her highlights.

1. Hana and Child by Nina Sanadze

The Jewish Independent

A shocking 1942 photograph of a mother and child held at gunpoint inspired sculptor Nina Sanadze to create more than 300 works exploring the relationship between a mother and child in times of terror. The museum is displaying a small selection of the ceramics, eerily reminiscent of a Michelangelo Pieta.

"I find them so moving and so strong, and one element that I find beautiful is that these works were made by Nina and her mother... sitting at the kitchen table, talking, surrounded by a very domestic environment, making these deep, important works."

2: Costumed dolls by the Victorian Embroiderers Guild

The Jewish Independent

Twenty-three uniquely costumed dolls were commissioned to illustrate the museum's Timeline of Jewish History gallery. The dolls depict biblical characters or people in Jewish dress from different times and places. Three volunteers from the Victorian Embroiderers Guild created the dolls, spending about 20 hours on each.

"It's incredible to see a snapshot of Jewish history and clothing through these dolls. Some of the details are amazing and they really delight young and old."

3: My Parents Gave Me a Colourful Life by Ruth Maddison

The Jewish Independent

In this large hand-coloured image of her parents Sam Goldbloom and Rosa Segal, artist Ruth Maddison reflects on the politics of the Melbourne Jewish left in the 1950s and the way it infiltrated the domestic environment.

"Ruth grew up with a strong awareness of political life, surrounded by thrilling debates on world events, social injustice and the peace movement," Gyorki explained. "She engaged with her familial history, primarily that of her father, who worked on the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, on the World Peace Council and who also was a member of the Communist Party from the 1950s.

"I like that it has a familiarity about it. Whether you grew up at that time or not — you can relate to it."

4: Theatrics 2 by Alexandra Obarzanek

The Jewish Independent

This striking modernist painting by Holocaust refugee Alexandra Obarzanek reflects the artist's interest in making sense of diverse experiences that could not be reconciled, using a collage effect evocative of early 20th century European movements.

"There's so much intrigue behind this woman, she's very compelling. We've hung her in our new children's space, which is usually bright and happy, and so I like that being juxtaposed with something more serious."

5: Head to Toe exhibition in the new children's space

The Jewish Independent

The children's space is a brand new addition to the museum, with exhibitions and programming focusing on kids and families, a library of children's books, beanbags and hands-on activities to help visitors play, learn and connect with Jewish art, culture and history.

While Gyorki says the area is geared towards a younger age bracket, she hopes that "there will always be a really interesting work in there for everyone to come and see".

The space's inaugural display, Head to Toe is a deep-dive into the museum's collection of garments, headwear, socks and shoes.

"It's so cute. We have these amazing beaded shoes, little Red Robin socks, and a really interesting selection of kippot with incredible stories behind them."

6: Ilona Kramer by Mozart Rottmann

The Jewish Independent

Mystery surrounds this oil painting by Mozart Rottmann. Beyond the fact that it was exhibited in Hungary in 1930, the museum knows little of its provenance, but the collections staff found the image so compelling that they were determined to find a place for it to hang.

"It's perfect for the library. I love that she looks so formal and she's watching over us. It's nice when you're deep in work to look up and imagine her story."

7: Under the chuppah

The Jewish Independent

The exhibition about Jewish weddings has long been a popular part of the museum's lifecycle, but its new display offers more contemporary content and hands-on opportunities.

"There used to be a bar closing off this space but we've opened it up so it is more interactive. Now, you can step under this beautifully detailed chuppah, and watch a video which will include footage of real-life Jewish weddings sent in by the public," Gyorki said.

The space also includes a bridal headdress, ear ornaments and necklace from 20th century Yemen, part of the rich costume worn for the henna ceremony, held before the wedding and attended by female relatives and friends. The ceremony marks the transition from the status of a girl to an adult woman and is common among eastern Jews as well as in neighbouring Muslim communities.

"We’re actually very lucky to have this headdress in our collection, because apparently they are quite rare. As they are so heavy, many families left them behind when they were leaving Yemen."


Jewish Museum of Australia reopens with a new look (TJI)

About the author

Ruby Kraner-Tucci

Ruby Kraner-Tucci is a journalist and assistant editor of TJI. Her writing has appeared in The Age, Time Out, Law Society Journal and Dumbo Feather Magazine. She previously reported on the charity sector as a journalist for Pro Bono News and undertook internships at The Australian Jewish News and Broadsheet Media.


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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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