Professor Shirly Bahar Receives Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies Fellowship

Mădălina Telea Borteș
January 26, 2023

Adjunct Professor of Visual Arts Shirly Bahar has been awarded a Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies Fellowship to be carried out at the University of Michigan. Over the course of the upcoming semester, Professor Bahar will further develop the questions introduced in her first book, Documentary Cinema in Israel-Palestine: Performance, The Body, The Home, an innovative study of “contemporary visual representation by and about Palestinians and Middle Eastern Jewish (Mizrahi) identity and life."  

“As I pivoted toward studying contemporary visual culture about the transitions that our Mizrahi Jewish ancestors and elders underwent…I was particularly drawn to excavating how these processes are enfolding in my own Turkish Jewish family and community,” Bahar said. “Thus, in considering the abundant visualized transformations of 20th Century Mizrahi Jews, I decided to focus for this semester on the case of Turkish Jews as represented in contemporary television.” 

One of those representations includes the Netflix drama series, Kulüp (The Club, 2021-2022), written by Necati Şahin and Rana Denize, and directed by Zeynep Günay Tan and Seren Yüce. The period piece follows the lives of Turkish Jewish singers and performers in 1950s Istanbul, and it gazes back, as well, to the 1940s, when fervent nationalism, unrest, and religious discrimination ran high. 

The series has been praised for deftly interweaving multiple facets of Jewish Turkish history in ways both novel and compelling, and more poignantly, without the use of stereotypes and one-dimensional characters. For the series creators, its fans, and for Bahar herself, this revisiting of history matters deeply. 

For Bahar, studying these contemporary representations “is becoming more personal as well as more political.” As such, during her fellowship semester, she will take a turn toward contemplating “the experience of watching representation of [her] history, community, and family today—a representation that comes closest to what I can call an image of my own self.” 

Such questions work in tandem with the topics Bahar explored in her Fall 2022 class in the Visual Arts Program, Critical Issues in Contemporary Art: Idioms, wherein Bahar and her students navigated "a genealogy of 20th and 21st century key issues in critical thought with an emphasis on critical queer, feminist, anti-racist, and anti-colonial thought, to explore personal and politically conscious art making, while vulnerably deep-diving into [one’s] own lived experiences informing [one’s] creative practices.” 

Among the topics and issues explored in Bahar’s class are also a series of questions to which she will return throughout her time at the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies. Questions such as: “How do we cultivate and celebrate representations of our own identities and lived experiences in the arts and visual culture around us, while persistently committing to wider cross-communal solidarities as part of an intersectional strive for collective liberation?” 

Dr. Shirly Bahar’s writing and curatorial work explores the relationships between representation, politics, and the body. Bahar has published articles about film, performance art, literature, gender and queer representation from Israel/Palestine, Turkey, and the US. Since 2013, Bahar has been curating art shows, public programs, and community events in New York City and across the US. She earned her PhD from New York University (2017), MA from Brandeis University (2010), and her BFA/Ed from Hamidrasha School of Arts (2006), where she specialized in sculpture and video installation.