Whether it is a lucky bracelet or a hamsa keychain amulet, superstitions believed to bring good fortune or ward off the bad are almost universal. They are the inspirations for a provocative new art exhibition: Magical Thinking: Superstitions and Other Persistent Notions, accessible virtually and at the Dr. Bernard Heller Museum at Hebrew Union College in New York through January 15, 2023.
Black cats, wishbones, and mirrors are among the symbols chosen for exploration by over 50 contemporary artists. Jewish (and North African/Middle Eastern) amulets such as the hamsa, an outstretched hand to ward of the “evil eye,” are among the most popular motifs. The striking works include oils, watercolors, acrylics, paper cuts, and photographs.
Several artists explored the use of red ribbons or string to ward off the evil eye in Jewish settings, such as tying a red ribbon on a newborn’s crib, string bracelets given out at the Western Wall in Jerusalem today, and bracelets worn by celebrities who are taken with Jewish Kabbalah teachings.
Characters from Jewish folklore, like the golem and the dybbuk, are also featured. In legend, the golem is a mythical figure molded from clay and brought to life to aid its creator, while the dybbuk is a phantom creation, often a revenge figure that interferes with the real world.