|A Gift to Biro-Bidjan:
From Despair to New Hope
David Bekker (1897-1956)
from the portfolio A Gift
to Biro-Bidjan, 1937
|David Bekker was born in
Vilna, Poland. He studied at the Antokolsky Art School in Russia; the Bezalel
Art Academy in Jerusalem, Palestine; and the Academy of Fine Arts in Denver.
His distinguished teachers in Bezalel were Boris Schatz and Abel Pann.
During the Depression, Bekker was a WPA artist who created images of human
suffering and painted murals in Illinois public buildings. In 1932, he
published a portfolio of woodcuts, Myths and Moods. His works are included
in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and the Tel Aviv Museum.
In the book Art of Today: Chicago, 1933 (written by J.Z. Jacobson and published by L.M. Stein), Bekker reveals his identity and his inspiration:
As a descendant of the persecuted Jewish people, branded with a yellow badge of humiliation and rendered impervious to the onslaughts of an antagonistic world by a soul which has never surrendered, I feel impelled to give form in my work to pathos, sorrow, strife and triumphant joy.
Bronx Express is the title of a Yiddish play written in 1919 by Osip Dymov (1878-1959), whose real name was Yosef Perlman. He wrote symbolist plays that addressed the problem of Jewish wandering and suffering through the ages. In Bronx Express, Dymov deals with the experience of the Jewish immigrants in the United States and their difficult in choosing between the values of the old country and the New World.
David Bekker based his woodcut on the description of the theater scene in the prologue to Bronx Express:
Subway car on the Bronx Express line. Afternoon rush hour of a hot day in August. The car is packed with people: men, women, and children, old and young. Some sit, some stand. Many read newspapers.
In the conversation in the subway car, Hungerproud, one of the main characters in the play, reveals his identity as a socialist and extremist. When asked if he observes Yom Kippur, he replies, “Well Yom Kippur is Yom Kippur, for the proletariat too.” When asked why he reads the Yiddish paper and not the English, Hungerproud answers, “Yiddish is better. I’m on the way home; I feel like forty winks. I open the Yiddish paper. I read the editorial, and I’m asleep from 14th Street to Harlem 160th. I walk in for supper refreshed.”
David Bekker presents the image Bronx Express as a caricature composed of few lines and a neutral, white background. Beyond the humorous and satiric nature of the play, issues like Jewish traditions, the Jewish Left and the Yiddish language are associated with the ideas behind the Biro-Bidjan settlement.
|David Bekker (1897-1956), Hungry Souls, Oil, ca. 1930s.|