Nov. 3, 2005 • Volume 14 Number 5

Lecture, film will complement McMullen exhibit

Two events taking place on the evening of Nov. 17 will serve as literary and historical complements to the current McMullen Museum of Art exhibition, "The Power of Conversation: Jewish Women and their Salons."

"The Power of Conversation" highlights the role played by the salons of Jewish women in the development of art, literature, music, theater, philosophy, and politics in Europe and America from the 18th century through the Second World War. Salons provided a context for the exchange of ideas across barriers of class, gender, nationality, ethnic origin, and religion. Moreover, salons enabled women and Jews - whose participation in official public life was restricted - to play a prominent role in shaping modern cultural life.

At a lecture, "The Unexpected Salon: Sexuality, Politics, and Meeting Places," to be held at 7 p.m. in Devlin 101, Assoc. Prof. Rachel Freudenburg (German Studies) will speak about the events, trends and influences that stretch the notion of the salon as defined in "The Power of Conversation."

"The salon has come to be identified, and rightly so, with Jewish German women of the 18th and 19th centuries," she explains, "and as a utopian form of sociability, a leveler between classes, a place of access for those legally excluded from public activity.

"But not all salonnieres were Jewish, nor were they all women. Men active in the gay emancipation movment of the early 20th century drew on the salon tradition in order to respond to legal prohibitions on homosexuality."

During the Third Reich, Freudenburg adds, Hitler's opponents were driven underground and into the private spaces of their homes to conduct their resistance work. One such group, the Kreisau Circle, aspired to become a model for democracy, and toward that end sought to effect change through conversation and the gathering of persons from diverse backgrounds and experiences - much like a salon in the tradition of a Rahel Varnhagen, says Freudenburg.

At the evening's other exhibition-related event, to be held at 7 p.m. in Higgins 300, Suzanne Wasserman will offer a screening and discussion of her film "Thunder in Guyana," the documentary she produced and directed about her cousin Janet Rosenberg Jagan, who became the first American-born woman to lead a nation when she was elected president of Guyana in 1997.

Born of Jewish parents in Chicago, Janet Rosenberg married Cheddi Jagan, a native of what was then British Guiana, and the couple became mainstays in the country's political scene. In 1992, a quarter-century after Guyana won its independence, Cheddi Jagan was elected president, and Janet was named Guyana's ambassador to the United Nations.

When Cheddi died five years later, she became president and served for two years, stepping down due to health concerns. She is still active in Guyanese politics.

The screening and discussion is presented by the McMullen Museum in partnership with the Film Studies Program.

-Sean Smith

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