Playing Identity: Jewish Artists and Jewishness, 1990 – 2000
The politicisation of identity, which has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, began as an emancipatory gesture. It was proposed that by organising around shared experiences of oppression, different groups could achieve political change. It is therefore ironic that the legacy of these movements, whose echoes are still being worked through in contemporary politics, discourse and art, is a view of identity that is fixed, decided by one’s race, gender or sexual orientation with little room for transgression. There is, however, an anomaly in this narrative: the way in which Jewishness is taken up within this discourse of identity. For the artists and writers turning to Jewishness at this moment, their experience of identity was not fixed; rather, it was one possible site of many from which to speak, a mask to wear and then take off, an identity they could both play and play with. This turn exists as a sprawl of seemingly disconnected efforts in art and critical discourse that take on the contested category of Jewishness. Crucially, these efforts cluster around the 1990s – itself a belated moment in the timeline of identity politics – and tend to dwindle after 2000. This dissertation seeks to study this moment, situate it within the wider context of the development of identity politics and ask why this approach to identity was short-lived.