Women's faces peered out from a series of paintings at the Sketchpad Chicago Incubator Space in a recent exhibition. A smiling woman in a yellow shirt, alone in a crowd but glowing with wonder. A woman trudging through heavy snowfall, a child on her back and a suitcase in her hand. A woman's outstretched arm plucking oranges from a tree. A woman's fingers clutching the knitting needles of a never-ending red scarf.
These paintings, all part of the
(Woman of Valor) series, were created by Gabriella Boros, an Israeli-born artist who moved to the United States as a child.
The series, based on the traditional Friday night song about the ideal qualities of a woman, features "the women who inspired me in my life," she said. Each painting is named after a verse of the song and includes one of these women.
The snow-covered woman in "With bravery she belts her hips and strains her arms" is Boros' grandmother, who was left with her two young sons during the Holocaust and had to escape Budapest. In "She fears not snow for her family is clothed in scarlet wool," Boros herself knits an "endless wool scarf, almost like an umbilical cord of safety and security."
"Strength and bravery are her clothing" features Boros's great-aunt draining a swamp in Israel as one of the first settlers. The elderly woman holding oranges in "Give her from the fruit of her labors and let her be praised in the gates by her deeds" is a friend who welcomed Boros to Skokie; even with the 50-year age difference between them, their friendship meant a great deal to Boros, who designed these paintings to honor both the women and her Jewish heritage.
In addition to this series, Boros is working on a new project for an upcoming exhibit at the Northern Illinois University theater. It will feature pieces related to the infamous story of the requiem performed during the Holocaust at the Terezin concentration camp. (The Jewish Federation held a benefit performance of
in 2017 to benefit Holocaust Community Services.) Along with the other members of the Jewish Artists Collective: Chicago, Boros will create pieces depicting defiance and "creating beauty even under horrible conditions," she said.
Boros is planning a series of woodblock prints for each of the seven movements of the requiem mass, a Catholic service for the repose of the souls of the dead. While researching, Boros discovered a profound similarity to Jewish services and texts she has studied: "they've taken ideas from our liturgy and moved it to Christian liturgy," she said, citing the example of the "Kadosh" movement during the Amidah prayer that is called Kyrie Eleison in the requiem mass.
This exhibit takes on a deeper meaning for Boros, the child of Holocaust survivors. When her family moved to the United States, they found that it was hard to maintain a connection to Judaism. Over time, from attending Hebrew school to seeking Jewish life wherever she moved, Boros has found a way to keep a Jewish home for herself and her children, as well as artistic inspiration.
"Judaism has been increasing in my life, and as a consequence, Jewish texts are a wellspring of inspiration," said Boros, who creates two or three major Jewish pieces of art each year.
"My Jewish identity plays a huge role in my art," she said. "I'll be in synagogue and read something, or somebody will mention something in a
, and I will wonder why we look at things in this particular way. I'll do a ton of reading and research, and suddenly, I have a huge series going again. It's inevitable!"
In addition to receiving a positive Jewish response to her art, Boros has enjoyed interacting with non-Jewish fans of her work from around the world. Reflecting on a chat with a woman in Scotland who drew deep meaning from her Eish (fire) series, Boros said, "Jewish work isn't only for Jewish audiences; it appeals to a lot of different audiences too."
For more information about Gabriella Boros and her work, visit