CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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Chana Orloff: Gender and the Modern Artist as Émigré

Session 10 Gendered Practices


An important artist of the international École de Paris and a pioneering woman in the early days of Israel and its art world, Chana Orloff  (1888-1965) was a Jewish émigré numerous times throughout her life. She first immigrated from the Ukraine to Palestine, then to Paris, then a forced exile in Switzerland during the Nazi occupation in World War II, and even a fourth time with her return to Paris as a victim and survivor of the Nazi atrocities. Orloff’s Jewish émigré status and female gender together form an important double lens through which this paper explores her multilayered struggle around identity and self-representation. Her work provides a useful case study for understanding how the varied and at times overlapping identities she negotiated are typical of those experienced by female artists belonging to a minority group who have experienced migration. By incorporating a critical examination of identity and hybridity in Orloff’s practice, the paper offers a revision of the history of modern art in light of the female émigré experience.


Paula J. Birnbaum is a professor at the University of San Francisco and Academic Director of the M.A. Program in Museum Studies.  She is the author of Women Artists in Interwar France: Framing Femininities (Ashgate, 2011). She co-edited an anthology (with Anna Novakov), Essays on Women's Artistic and Cultural Contributions 1919-1939 (Edwin Mellen, 2009). Her articles appeared in a variety of journals, including the Art JournalModern Jewish Studies and Woman's Art Journal. Book chapters on the themes of gender, modernism and diaspora appeared in the anthologies The Modern Woman Revisited, eds. Whitney Chadwick and Tirza True Latimer (Rutgers, 2000), Diaspora and Modern Visual Culture, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (Routledge, 2003), andReconciling Art and Motherhood, ed. Rachel Epp Buller (Ashgate, 2012). Dr. Birnbaum’s paper is part of her book, Chana Orloff: Sculpting as a Modern Woman, forthcoming with Brandeis University Press. Her scholarship focuses on modern and contemporary art in relationship to gender and sexuality, as well as institutional and social politics and current research projects include a series of articles on contemporary feminist art in the Middle East and essays on graffiti and street art.