Christy Roberts Berkowitz:  The Distance Between the Grooves in My Fingerprint

March – July 1, 2019

Curator: Rotem Rozental

 “My paternal great great great great grandfather, Lord Byron’s first cousin, founded a poet’s union in Georgetown.  My maternal great great grandparents were secular Jewish refugees from Russia who were rumored to be revolutionaries. There were definitely witches in there, as there always are. As a child, I’d steal family jewelry, pretending they had magical powers and I’d use brass candlesticks brought over on the Mayflower for witchcraft. I am 400 years of making art, but I am also 400 years of colonial violence.”

Arts at AJU is pleased to presentThe Distance Between the Grooves in My Fingerprint, a solo exhibition by the LA artist and organizer Christy Roberts Berkowitz. The new video, installation, mixed-media, and text works in this show examine the diverging and overlapping cultural landscapes of fact and fiction and communal and individual narratives through reference to the artist’s dual colonial Mayflower and Russian-Jewish refugee heritage.

The exhibition addresses the immediate legacy of inherited family violence and trauma through the prism of broader systems of power and control. The physical threats experienced by Roberts Berkowitz at the hands of her father are scrutinized with reference to the colonial projects of their shared Mayflower ancestors and the structural racism and capitalist institutions that are sustained by this historical narrative. In a new video work the artist turns her attention to  questions of complicity and solidarity, examining the role played by her mother, the descendent of socialist, Jewish, radical refugees, in upholding  structures of patriarchy and inherited power while serving as one of Southern California’s first female police captains.

This project is the culmination of a research-based process of self examination arising from conversations that took place during and after 2017’s Reciprocity: LA Artist Retreat, presented by the Institute for Jewish Creativity and Asylum Arts. It was through these conversations that Roberts Berkowitz first felt permission to both claim and critique her jewishness and to evaluate it in relation to whiteness, Christianity, and mechanisms of institutional authority.

In these works, family heirlooms, records, and symbols of historical archetypes are re-examined and reconfigured to reveal the complex webs of social intimacy, politics, and privilege that supports those who hold power, erases those who do not,  and which continues to shape and define identity across generations. Seekingto confront both what came before her and what she is left with, Roberts Berkowitz investigates the pride and shame of ancestral narratives, revealing the line between colonizer and refugee, hero and villain, oppressor and oppressed, as tangled and blurred.