The racial vitriol towards President Obama, the election of Donald Trump, the racial murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery and others, and the endemic issues surfaced by the Covid outbreak caused a profound reckoning for many, including Caron Tabb and her artwork. Tabb found herself spending significant time engaging in difficult conversations where she questioned her role, responsibilities, and culpability as a white woman. The people with whom she had these conversations inspired and pushed her to the point of profound awakening and introspection.
Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport, Tabb’s second exhibition at Beacon Gallery, stems from such introspection and offers a personal portrait as well as a communal call to action. The conceptual mixed media work in this show draws heavily from Tabb’s deep Jewish identity while demonstrating we can encourage change in others through our own resilience and intentions.
In her newly released exhibition catalogue, Tabb details a multitude of experiences and connections which have, over time, molded her beliefs and purposes in revealing detail. Included among these personal pieces are two Tzedakah boxes – otherwise deemed ‘justice vessels’ – dedicated to women who have inspired Tabb and her work. Referred to as ‘women of valor’, the Tzedakah boxes act as symbolic tokens of honor in connection to her Be The Change Initiative.
Rooted in the Jewish tenet of justice and drawing from the ritualistic Jewish tzedakah (“justice”) box, “Be the Change” is an art and activism initiative inspired by a conversation between Boston-based artist Caron Tabb and Ruth Messinger, a NYC political activist and past President/CEO of the American Jewish World Service.
The tzedakah box is a small container in which Jews traditionally collect loose change on Shabbat and other occasions to be donated to the needy. The initiative will commission artists from all demographics and religions to create large scale tzedakah boxes inspired by their vision of justice. By introducing the concepts of tzedakah across the city through these public art installations and engaging individuals and organizations in a variety of programs, participants are encouraged to become positive change agents in their own communities.
Boston will serve as the model city for this project, facilitated by artist Caron Tabb and JArts. With the partnership of CANVAS and CJP, we seek to expand this project to feature 18 Tzedakah boxes by 18 artists, with exhibits and programming in 3 cities.
Caron Tabb shares: “The biblical term Eshet Chayil, Hebrew for Woman of Valor, appears in Proverbs 31:10. It refers to a wife who caters to her husband’s every need while also tending to the home. I have taken this moniker and given it a new definition more worthy of the inspirational accomplishments of today’s women. Rather than equating valor with an outdated notion of domesticity, I connect it to the use of power to make a difference in other peoples’ lives: to use one’s voice, privilege, and character to bend the arc of justice.
The word tzedakah is Hebrew for charity, derived from the root word tzedek, meaning justice or righteousness. Jewish tradition teaches that giving tzedakah is a religious imperative, even for those who have little to give. It is customary to place money in a Tzedakah Box just prior to Shabbat, holidays, and other special occasions and then donate it to the needy.
The two Tzedakah Boxes in this exhibition are the first of a series, the development of which has inspired and sustained me and most importantly, given me hope. As I have admired the work of Ruth Messinger and Chaplain Clementina Chéry for a very long time, I am delighted to dedicate the first two Women of Valor Tzedakah Boxes to them.”
Justice Vessels: Tzedakah Box for Ruth
While Ruth Messinger served at the helm of the American Jewish World Service, the organization became a leader in Jewish humanitarian work around the world. Her dedication to the cause of bettering lives for others resonated with every fiber of my being. Quoting Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s statement that, “When terrible things happen in a democracy, some are guilty and all are responsible,” Ruth said, “I take the responsibility of which he spoke very seriously.”
The concept of Ruth’s “Tzedakah” was illuminated in the stories she shared with me in conversation in her favorite bookstore-café on New York City’s Upper West Side. No matter how dire her finances, she always gave money to people on the street who asked for help. She said that if they needed to beg, their situation was more desperate than her own. She spoke about stopping and talking to them, searching for humanity in and offering dignity to each and every one no matter their circumstances.
I shared with her that I was planning on dedicating a Tzedakah Box to her as part of a conversation on the ways in which I think art can galvanize activism. Interestingly enough, she said she had always wanted a giant Tzedakah Box in front of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City that read “Be The Change” — a play on words for both giving and activating the giver.
I dedicate this Tzedakah Box to a true Woman of Valor: Ruth Messinger.
Justice Vessels: Tzedakah Box for Tina
I met Chaplain Clementina (Tina) M. Chéry about nine years ago after moving from California to Boston. Tina’s story of losing her fifteen-year-old son Louis to gun violence was the motivation behind her founding of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. Her strength of personality continues to inspire me and others. I was deeply moved by the idea that one can use such a personal tragedy to propel others to action. Tina was able to channel her pain into the betterment of society. Tina has used her pain, her grief, and her unimaginable loss to work towards a different world. She was inspired by both looking back at the world her son left behind, and by looking forward to the more just world he imagined. Chaplain Chéry is an incredible manifestation of valor, justice, and strength.
In conversation with Tina, she shared not only her personal story with me but also the principles that guide her work and give her strength in the face of incredible adversity. She draws much of her strength from God and asks herself every day, “What can I do? What is in my control? How can I do good today?” Her core principles by which she lives every day and which she has instilled
throughout the organization resonate deeply with me: Love, Unity, Faith, Hope, Courage, Justice, and Forgiveness. To these, I say, Amen.
The Tzedakah Box created in her honor resembles a burnt nest, a symbol of the hardship she has endured, but from the nest rises a representation of Tina’s incredible conviction to act as an agent for change.
I dedicate this Tzedakah Box to a true Woman of Valor: Tina Chéry.
While never seeking to preach, Tabb instead extends an invitation to engage. She allows the viewer glimpses of the innate goodness we all have inside of ourselves through portraits of courageous women and her own introspection. She endeavors to reveal our common bonds while breaking down the artificial barriers we create so easily.
Featuring all original never-before-seen works, Tabb aims to shed light on white privilege, systemic racism, and inequality, as well as our shared humanity. Even more important than the awareness she hopes to bring, Tabb seeks to challenge viewers and inspire difficult conversations. In addition, examples of successful community-building leadership from her Be The Change series demonstrate that while words and visuals can bring awareness to an issue, true progress requires action.
Caron Tabb’s Humanity Is Not A Spectator Sport is on view at Beacon Gallery from November 5th, 2021 through mid-January 2022. Please visit our website for a full listing of events, selected readings, initiatives, collaborations, and so much more.
To keep up with Caron Tabb’s work, find her on instagram @carontabb and on her website www.carontabb.com
For all other inquiries, please reach out to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org