Chicago Crossings: Bridges and Boundaries

A documentary produced by Kartemquin Films made to accompany the Spertus Institute of Judaica's 1994 exhibition in which six African-American artists and six Jewish-American artists collaborated on a group show. This is the most recent version of the documentary centering on the artists and their ideas about the exhibition's theme, which centers on the relationships between black and Jewish people in America.

0:00Copy video clip URL Intro sequence. A series of shots showing the artists working in studio, socializing with each other, etc. is accompanied by a non-diegetic soundtrack, “Eliyahu” by Chicago native and jazz pianist Ben Sidran.

2:20Copy video clip URL Marva Jolly talks about her inspiration for becoming an artist because she did not like the images white people used to portray black people, and wanted to use her own images, as well as how profoundly our perspectives are shaped by our upbringings.

2:58Copy video clip URL John Pitman Weber talks about the ongoing trend of “identity politics” in art, his avoidance of it, and, ultimately, the assertion that he sees this show as a way to “deal with [his] history.”

3:36Copy video clip URL John Rozelle talks about his religious upbringing and the subsequent identity problems it fostered for him.

4:07Copy video clip URL Gerda Meyer-Bernstein—a refugee who fled from Germany in 1939—recalls her long history of political activism, beginning as a young teen in Germany. She sees this show as a continuance of of her involvement in politics, in addition to her efforts with Amnesty International as well as various women’s organizations.

4:33Copy video clip URL Kerry James Marshall talks about his childhood and his family’s multiple moves, eventually settling in South Central Los Angeles. “I remember when gangs were a different kind of gang, back then, when they were more like a club,” he says.

4:59Copy video clip URL Claire Wolf Krantz says, “I was much more sensitized to myself as a victim than myself as a perpetrator until I got involved with this project,” and talks about her experience growing up as a minority, but it was her Jewish name that marked her difference rather than her skin.

5:22Copy video clip URL At a roundtable meeting of the artists and museum staff, Julia Perkins of the Chicago Historical Society talks about the Black–Jewish issue being viewed by many outside communities as “a ‘Family Matters’ problem.” She does not think that other groups are very concerned with these issues.

5:34Copy video clip URL At the same meeting, Jolly says she never even really heard about Jews until she was a young adult and she didn’t know that there was a problem because it never came up in her communities. Othello Anderson agrees with Jolly, saying he has worked with the black community for years and has never heard Jews come up.

6:06Copy video clip URL In a separate interview, Rozelle talks about how his initial interactions with Jewish people were as the shop owners in his neighborhood growing up. “They were the merchants.”

6:21Copy video clip URL Fan Warren recollects learning about the Holocaust at a young age. Speaking as a younger version of herself, Warren recounts, “Wow, this is amazing to me, that these two people [African-Americans and Jewish-Americans] both have a relationship to this word, the ghetto.”

6:38Copy video clip URL Marshall talks about his piece for the show, which looks at various contexts of the Star of David, including Baruch Goldstein’s use of the symbol during the Hebron massacre, its use during Nazi Germany, and then it’s use as a modern-day gang symbol in Chicago. He shows the set of photographs of the symbol taken throughout his Bronzeville neighborhood. “I see an equivalence, in a lot of ways, between the way that group [pointing at Baruch Goldstein] operates and gang-banging.”

7:54Copy video clip URL Joel Feldman talks about how he doesn’t want his work to immediately appeal just to the people who already agree with him about race, because then he wouldn’t change anything.

8:28Copy video clip URL Weber says he believes that for many whites, concentrating on race too much becomes a way of distancing themselves from social problems. In other words, by identifying interrelated social problems as affecting primarily blacks, they are able to distance themselves from the complexity of the issues. He is trying to figure out how to do a piece to represent this where the viewer has a barrier between them and the image.

9:35Copy video clip URL In the studio, Esther Parada is shown photographing Jolly. “I’m trying to get equivalent positions for all the people, and then we’ll end up doing some blending. We want to do it just like the Time magazine where they had all the different ethnic and racial types on the x-coordinate and on the y,” Parada explains while referencing  the November 18, 1993 issue of Time.

9:59Copy video clip URL Sonny Venice (pseudonym of Hamza Walker) is shown holding the aforementioned issue of Time while maintaining that the creators of the cover have mistaken the idea of diversity with homogeneous blending.

10:26Copy video clip URL Parada is shown manipulating the images taken of Marshall. “Let’s go for the Michael Jackson effect,” Marshall jokes, met by a rouse of laughter.

11:23Copy video clip URL In a separate interview, Jolly admits, “I’ve always thought that Jews were white people,” and hopes that “the growing pains would not destroy the larger piece, which is a demonstration that people can get along.”

11:46Copy video clip URL Blumenthal asks Rozelle whether or not he thinks Jews are different from other white people, to which Rozelle responds, “Well, they are and they are not. I think that as soon as they latch on to the professed arrogance and professed superiority of European culture, I think they’re just like any other white person. And I think they’re different in that they have this oppression that has been with them for ages,” he explains.

13:02Copy video clip URL Continuing the discussion on identity and race relations, Krantz insists, “I don’t look at blacks as a different kind of me, I think that they should be able to be who they are, but we’ve got to get along.” With this, Krantz goes on to explain that she aims to instill meaning in each and every element of her piece, allowing them to “resolve together, without losing each of their individual identities.”

13:43Copy video clip URL A shot of the computer screen as Parade prepares to manipulate digital images of Marshall and Wolf Krantz. “Anyway, that’s static at this point. The blending is a whole other thing.”

13:54Copy video clip URL Warren introduces the problems that Blacks and Jews are having, saying that these problems are “over the black and white issue, which is really not our issue.”

14:09Copy video clip URL At the roundtable meeting, all twelve artists are discussing Louis Farrakhan, leader of the religious group Nation of Islam. Jolly argues that the anti-Semitic views expressed by Farrakhan are “not an issue in my house, so don’t come to my neighborhood with that.” She goes on to say, “Let the people who need to deal with denouncing that do it,” to which Rozelle, Meyer-Bernstein, and Edith Altman respond that Blacks and Jews cannot move forward until the issue is addressed as a community.

15:07Copy video clip URL In a separate interview, Altman talks about her current plans for the exhibition. She talks about the images of three-year-old children (one Jewish, one black) she wants to use along with the idea that “children don’t learn to hate until they’re three years of age.” She gestures at the images of the children, “So this is a very—get ’em young!”

15:47Copy video clip URL Meyer-Bernstein comments on the histories of both groups of people. “We’ve got 400 years of Black slavery and we’ve got 2,000 years of Jewish persecution, and it’s going to be a super-difficult thing to try to have this process of healing.”

16:06Copy video clip URL Meyer Bernstein is shown working on her installation with an assistant, briefly describing her techniques and the motives behind them.

16:51Copy video clip URL Rozelle talks about the inspiration behind one of his pieces, recounting the story of three Freedom Riders who were killed in Mississippi: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner. Rozelle describes how Chaney, a Black man, was beaten much more severely than Goodman or Schwerner, who were both New York Jews.

17:40Copy video clip URL Warren says, “Perhaps what we need to do is think about what was the relationship between blacks and Jews before we came to be enemies,” saying the Africans and the Israelis must have had a fruitful relationship in the past.

18:01Copy video clip URL Anderson says he had only seen isolated incidents on the news, and didn’t think it was a cultural phenomenon.

18:13Copy video clip URL Jolly says, “It has become almost a tabloid kind of issue, which I think is most unfortunate.” She feels there’s a lot said that doesn’t have much substance, “but [there’s] a lot of pain connected to it.” She also mentions there isn’t the same sense of Holocaust with black people, which makes it hard to talk about shared sufferings.

18:46Copy video clip URL The film cuts to Altman alone with her installation where she indirectly responds to Jolly’s previous claim. Altman alludes to an Illinois Assembly meeting in which the word “holocaust” was mentioned in reference to the “Black holocaust,” in which “100 million Black Africans… that had died, that had been squeezed on the boats, the children and the adults, just like the Jews were squeezed in the trains. I share with them, unfortunately, the holocaust,” Altman says.

19:48Copy video clip URL Rozelle expresses his hopes for the show, saying he’s looking for “more dialogue to be created” because “people are afraid to talk about stuff, or they’re afraid to be honest about stuff.”

20:14Copy video clip URL Altman supports Rozelle’s hopes, admitting that “I still feel like we haven’t been talking to each other in this group.”

20:24Copy video clip URL Jolly says, “If every one of us offered each other spirit, love, whatever [you want to call it], that would be the issue, you know? How to use it all up!”

20:35Copy video clip URL Anderson talks about his personal hopes for the show, laughing off the idea that it could “answer the problems of the world” and rather insisting that “[he] would like it to be a good show, and a good show to remember.”

20:46Copy video clip URL Sidran’s “Eliyahu” returns as a montage of clips illustrates the artists’ planning of the exhibition’s layout and installing their pieces.

21:32Copy video clip URL End credits.

22:10Copy video clip URL End of tape.



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