Exploring Values Through Art

The Y’s Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life is proud to present the Who We Are: Values Walking Tour, showcasing local artists representing a different humanitarian value each month.

It is our goal, amidst a COVID-19 reality, to promote local artists and offer the Northern Manhattan community access to art. While normally we would like for this art to be shown on the walls of the Y, with the current COVID-related limitations, it is our goal to bring our local artists to the streets of our community.

May : Honor
Featured artist: Dianne Hebbert
Website: https://www.diannehebbert.com/
Instagram: @diannehebbert
Artworks titles and caption:
-The Significance of Motherhood, 2020, Gold leaf, fabric and flashe paint on plexi, 20”x 20"
-The Only Thing that Matters, 2020, Gold leaf, paper and paint marker on plexi,
15" x 17”

Dianne Hebbert, The Significance of motherhood.JPG

Dianne Hebbert, The only thing that matters.jpg



A Curator’s Note by Gal Cohen
Celebrating Mother’s day this month, within the thought frame of the value
‘Honor’ in mind, Dianne Hebbert’s work is celebrating the Honoring of Motherhood in its most profound way. Creating work about lineage, family values and reproduction, Dianne’s mixed-media paintings speak to multigenerational maternal care. As a first generation American, Hebbert reflects on her family’s Nicaraguan culture and traditions, and how those translate and reproduce in her American life experience. She desires to preserve those traditions inherited from her ancestors, and continue them in the family she creates. In the Works ‘The Significance of Motherhood’ and ‘The Only Thing That Matters’, Dianne incorporates gold as a symbol of value, perfection and worth into her figures, thus reaffirming and empowering Mother-Daughter relationship. These paintings are mementos of unconditional maternal love.

Artist Bio:
Dianne Hebbert is a Nicaraguan-American artist and curator. She works primarily in painting, printmaking and installation art. As a Miami native she attended New World School of the Arts before she earned her BFA in Painting and Drawing from Purchase College and her MFA in Printmaking from Brooklyn College. Hebbert is a recipient of the Vermont Studio Center Fellowship and residency, she was selected as a Smack Mellon Hot Pick Artist in 2017 and an Emerging Leader of New York Arts 2016-2017 Fellow. Hebbert has completed residencies at Trestle Art Space, Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts and is currently a Chashama Space to Connect artist.


By Rabbi Ari Perten, Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life Director

The Latin phrase nomen omen suggests that something’s name gives insight into its essence.  Such a statement is certainly true for the concept of honor.  In hebrew the word honor כבוד (kavod) comes from the root כ.ב.ד (k.v.d) meaning weighty or heavy.  The diametric opposite is the word for curse, קלל (klala) which comes from the Hebrew root ק.ל (k.l.) meaning light.  An implicit message from this etymology is that to honor someone means to treat them with due and deserved seriousness.  While to curse someone is to treat them lightly.  Conceptually, such an assertion is not terribly challenging.  Intellectually it is easy to espouse the value that every person is deserving of honor, that every person deserves to be taken seriously.  Yet our lived experience so often tells a different tale.  Often we live in the margins, either exuberantly clinging to (and at times even magnifying) our own importance, or, the opposite seeing ourselves as unimportant, common, and meaningless.  In both moments of extremes we would do well to remember that the value of honor insists on our essential substance. As people we are worth honor and such a statement is not uniquely limited to our existence.  Observing pleasant sights, smelling an appealing odor, savoring a delicious taste all, almost naturally, elicit reflexive praise.  If the inanimate can be deserving of such honor, how much the more so beings endowed with intelligence and understanding.  How do you see honor in yourself and honor in others?


April: Remembrance

Still Image from Workshop performance of Site: Yizkor Sichow, Poland

Still Image from the Video Installation Site: Yizkor, Incubated by LABA: A Laboratory for Jewish Culture, the Millay Colony and the MacDowell Colony

By Maya Ciarrocchi
mayaciarrocchi.com | instagram.com/mayaciarrocchi

Maya Ciarrocchi is a New York-based interdisciplinary artist working across media in drawing, printmaking, performance, video, installation, and social practice. Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally, and she has received residencies and fellowships from the Bronx Museum of the Arts (AIM), LABA: a Laboratory for Jewish Culture, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (Swing Space), MacDowell, Millay Colony, New York Artists Equity, UCross, and Wave Hill (Winter Workspace). She received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant, a Film/Video Grant from The Jerome Foundation, and funding from The Puffin Foundation. In addition to her studio practice, Ciarrocchi has created award winning projection design for dance and theater including the TONY award winning Broadway musical The Band's Visit. Ciarrocchi is the recipient of a 2021 grant from the Trust for Mutual Understanding and a Bronx Council on the Arts 2020 BRIO Award winner.

Curator’s Note By Gal Cohen
galcohenart.com  |  instagram.com/galshugon 

Maya Ciarrocchi’s art practice speaks strongly to the value of Remembrance. Through personal narrative, research-based storytelling, and embodied mapmaking, Ciarrocchi’s works recreate access to the stories of perished communities and demolished places, thus exploring the physical and emotional manifestation of loss. This still image was captured from an in-process interdisciplinary performance work: Site: Yizkor, commemorating the Jewish communities who perished during the Holocaust. Among the source material included, there are architectural renderings of demolished buildings, memory maps of vanished places and figures, and prose remembrances obtained from historical Yizkor books. This month, when Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed, Maya’s work resonates and invites us to dive into the remembrance of these lost communities.


By Rabbi Ari Perten, Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life Director

Renee Descartes famously opined, I think, therefore I am.  Without taking too many liberties, we might reconstruct this statement to I remember, therefore I am, for who are we if not individuals built by our experiences. Indeed memory is so prized that we often utilize a multiplicity of tools to help us remember that which we deem important. These tools range from family stories passed down from generation to generation to the appointments booked on a google calendar to a social media reminder of a friend’s birthday. Memory is important and we regularly hold ourselves accountable towards remembering our past and the future events to which we’ve made obligations. Memory can be multi-sensory. The taste of a food, notes of music, and whiffs of scent can transport us to a distant past that suddenly becomes very alive in the moment.

Yet memory can also be false as well. How accurately is the past remembered? Whose truth is represented in this memory? Might there be other truths that distort or even change the event once remembered with such clarity. Such thinking opens up the possibility that the reality of the past might not be so rigid. We craft memories about what is important. Perhaps these memories speak more towards the person we aspire to become more so than the our recollected experiences.

March: Freedom

Goddess Pose (2018)
Hand-Cut Silhouette on Paper, 10” x 8”

Warrior II Pose (2018)
Hand-Cut Silhouette on Paper, 10” x 8”

By Jessica Maffia 
jessicamaffia.com  |  instagram.com/jessicamaffia 

Jessica Maffia is a visual artist born and raised in New York City. Her work has been exhibited throughout the US and is currently in the Flat Files of Pierogi Gallery in downtown Manhattan. Maffia created the artwork for musician Childish Gambino’s two singles “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer.” Her solo exhibition at Denise Bibro Fine Art in Chelsea featured her large, photorealistic pencil drawings of urban cracks and residue producing unexpectedly beautiful surfaces. Maffia is the recipient of 13 artist residency fellowships and two grants from the Hells Kitchen Foundation. Her work is featured on the covers of Fabio Gironi's philosophy book, “Naturalizing Badiou: Mathematical Ontology and Structural Realism” and poet Firas Sulaiman’s latest book, “As if My Name is a Mistaken Sign.” The artist’s installation, Lanterns for Peace, was exhibited in various sites throughout the US in response to the 2016 presidential elections. Maffia worked live on her series of self-portraits at Spring Break Art Show in March 2018. She is currently working on a series of portraits of her non-human neighbors as well as her latest series, Walking Broadway: Signs of Nature on the Wickquasgeck Trail. She is looking forward to her artist residency at United Plant Savers in the Summer of 2021.

Curator’s Note By Gal Cohen
galcohenart.com  |  instagram.com/galshugon 

There are endless ways of thinking about Women’s History month, or rather Women’s HERstory month. The month is inherently about Freedom; freedom to vote, financial freedom, freedom to speak up, freedom of your own body, freedom to advocate and express oneself. When Nina Simone was asked what freedom meant to her, she replied “no fear.” This answer is strikingly resonant in its tangible and grounded essences, especially when thinking about intersectionality of womxn and added factors as race, class, gender, and disability. Jessica Maffia, an artist living and working in Washington Heights, uses her own body as a map on which she inscribes her inner landscape. In Maffia’s collages, she creates silhouettes of her body to render postures, such as Warrior II and Goddess Pose, adding a palpable emphasis on wxmanhood to them. The history of art is burdened by the representation of women made by men, for men. There is no better way to regenerate womxn history and work towards freedom than to visualize, tell, and write stories of womxn by womxn, for womxn.


By Rabbi Ari Perten, Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life Director

The concept of freedom is a foundational truth of the American ethos. In the Declaration of Independence, our country’s founders famously asserted the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. In our schools we regularly tell the story of those who emigrated to the US in hopes of securing freedom for themselves and their families. Even more recently, our nation has struggled as it has begun to face the troubling reality that freedom is not always equally applied. 


As a concept, freedom is difficult. Does freedom suggest a freedom from or a freedom to? Though related the two applications are conceptually unique. Freedom from, suggests that one is no longer reliant upon or obligated towards another. Freedom to, indicates an autonomy in decision making.  When we speak of freedom, to which freedom do we refer? Which freedom is the freedom of our most sacred belief?

A second complexity of freedom is based on the question of how does one obtain freedom. One approach suggests agency rests in the hands of the powerful meaning that freedom can be granted but not achieved. A second approach asserts the opposite, freedom is not just physical but mental as well. As such, regardless of one’s physical state, freedom can only be reached when one who considers themselves as free. This second approach is reminiscent of the work of the 20th century psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.  Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, wrote in his 1946 autobiographical work Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Having now lived a full year in which our physical freedom has been limited by COVID-19 Frankl’s words offer much needed comfort.  How will you celebrate your freedoms this month?

February: Human Dignity

The Gateway to Eternal Souls
By Garry Grant
garrygrantstudio.com  |  instagram.com/garryfgrant

The Gateway to Eternal Souls IX: Blue Fields of Reeds (2020)
Mixed Media on Handmade Paper 22” x 30”

The Gateway to Eternal Souls VIII: Orange Fields of Reeds (2020)
Mixed Media on Handmade Paper 22” x 32”

Garry Grant
is a visual artist based in New York City. With a focus on abstraction, his work is inspired by the materials he employs and the use of color and texture. The tone of Grant’s work conveys a sense of rhythm; the forms expressive movement. A master gilder, he uses gold, silver, and copper leaf for the underpinning of his large-scale works, building these variegated metals onto the canvas to create vibrancy and varying degrees of depth to the background. He often adds pressure to the canvas to bring about a cracked-pattern effect, adding a rich texture to the composition. For the foreground, he applies acrylic paint and other pigments to the canvas by hand, manipulating the material until attenuated forms cover the surface. More recently, his practice has expanded to include the creation of life-size sculptures, other three-dimensional objects, and works on hand-made paper. Grant’s work is held in private collections and has been featured in solo and group exhibitions in New York, Detroit, Dallas, and Atlanta. 

Curator’s Note By Gal Cohen
galcohenart.com  |  instagram.com/galshugon 

“The Gateway to Eternal Souls” Series started with the rise of the pandemic. Grant, like too many Americans, suffered the loss of family members due to COVID-19. The series of work is an artistic tribute to people struggling with the disease, with no family members around them for support and care. Grant created a “gateway or heaven’s gate” for families who had to deal with this tragic crisis, with “the hope that the artwork will bring peace and dignity to the sick and their loved ones dealing with the virus.”  With the advent of social distancing, the pandemic has forced us to become more distant from each other.  While of clear benefit for health and safety, the pandemic has forced whole segments of our society to become increasingly absent from public view.  How do we ensure human dignity for those both visible and hidden?

Human Dignity

By Rabbi Ari Perten, Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life Director

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly ratified General Assembly Resolution 217 A, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The declaration asserts, “[R]ecognition of the inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.” The declaration of human dignity as an inherent quality of the human condition is critical as it insists that regardless of appearance, beliefs, or ancestry, all humans are afforded the same rights and considerations. Yet sadly, far too frequently, many are denied their human dignity. How does this degradation occur? Often loss of human dignity does not begin with large-scale attacks and assaults, but rather more insidiously, with an intentional shift of language. To the Nazis, Jews became rats and vermin. To the Hutus the Tutsis became cockroaches. The subversive move to radically reorient the way in which “the other” is described, removing humanity in exchange for more debased connections is exceptionally frightening.  

Chillingly, it is not only “villains” who ignore the basic human dignity afforded all people. The 19th/20th Century philosopher Martin Buber described the world as a combination of two types of relationships — I/Thou relationships and I/It relationships. An I/Thou relationship is one in which the I does not objectify a Thou but rather acknowledges a living relationship. I/Thou asserts a connection, bonding two discrete entities together, even if just for a moment. The more common relationship is an I/It relationship. Here, the I and the It remain separate. The It functionally serves the I as a tool existing to be used rather than engaged.

In our own quest for self-improvement, the challenging question to consider is how regularly do I acknowledge the human dignity, not just of my colleagues, friends, and family, but also of the stranger we pass on the street.

January: Justice

Solvent Transfer on Watercolor Paper, 2017
By Linda Smith

lindacsmith.com  |  instagram.com//laughing_linda

Linda Smith is an artist and art educator, who started a non-profit organization while living in Kigali, Rwanda, called the TEOH Project, which provides cameras and art classes to children in Rwanda, Ghana, and the Bronx. She has been commissioned by the United Nations to provide photography classes to survivors and former perpetrators of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. She earned her BA from Syracuse University, MA in Communications at Goldsmith College at the University of London, and MFA from the University of Connecticut. Her work has been exhibited in the United Nations, embassies, and universities.

Curator’s Note By Gal Cohen
galcohenart.com  |  instagram.com/galshugon 

‘Isabella’ is a mixed-media work showcasing a 1911 young immigrant from Italy to the US. It’s part of the series “Sojourners,” where Smith manipulates archival photographs of family members who immigrated from Italy to the US to echo the cross generational complexities that are inherited to the process of Immigration. The haunted look on Isabella’s face and the ghostly reflection of her image speaks to the rooted conflict and collective memory of the migration and immigration movements — the vulnerability and displacement, along with the reinvention of life itself, embedded with hopes for a safer, brighter future. Questions of justice, equality, and human rights are key to processes of migration and immigration around the world, as the wide range of by-choice migrants, through refugees and asylum seekers reveal the built-in inequality in contemporary societies, especially amidst the current global refugee crisis.


By Rabbi Ari Perten, Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life Director

Justice is at the center of the American myth. The average school day begins with a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in which students declare the US to be one nation… “with liberty and justice for all.” Though this mantra is so regularly repeated, our lived experience often indicates that justice is, perhaps, not always the reality which we experience, but rather a dream towards which we aspire. 

The classic image of justice (based on the Roman goddess of Justice, Iustitia) is a blindfolded woman with a set of scales in one hand and a sword in the other. This representation plays on the concept of sight asserting that justice needs to be impartially applied without regard to wealth, power, or any other status. In the Midrash Tanhuma (Shoftim 8:1), we are reminded, “When the judge sets his heart on a bribe, he becomes blind to justice and is unable to judge [a case] honestly.” Justice must be directed without the imposition of external factors.  When sight is allowed, it clouds judgement, distancing justice from its appropriate application.

Interestingly, in the book of Deuteronomy (22:1-3) there is an explanation as to the application of justice in the return of lost property that also utilizes the image of sight. The final verse insists, “and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find: you may not hide yourself.”  The medieval French commentator, Rashi, remarks on this final injunction, “You must not cover your eyes, pretending not to see it.”  Here, playing on this same theme of sight, Rashi insists that justice can only occur when we actively pursue sight, removing any blindfolds that might limit the ability to see.

As our country continues to struggle with the concept of justice, we must each ask, what is my understanding of justice?

For more information about the Who We Are: Values Walking Tour and the Y's Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life, please contact Rabbi Ari Perten at aperten@ywashhts.org.

Artists: learn more about submissions here

Header image by Values Walking Tour: Who We Are Curator Gal Cohen. 

What's happening?

Check out events and programs at the Y's Norman E. Alexander Center for Jewish Life:
• Bubbie's Kitchen
• Ukulele Shabbat
• PJ Library at the Y 2020 - 2021: Sharing Our Stories
• Israeli Cuisine @ Home
• Shamayim Vegan Challenge
• My Child and Me: Fostering Positive Values in the Home
• and more