Jane McAdam Freud spoke on Thursday night at a student art exhibition organised by UJS and Jewish News, write Ilana Green and Sophie Eastaugh.

‘The Way Things Look- Israel through the eyes of young Jewish artists’ invited students to produce artwork inspired by their Jewish identity and relationship to Israel.

Jane awards student artists Talia Rosenthal with a certificate for the project

Jane awards exhibitor Talia Rosenthal with a certificate

As the great-granddaughter of the psychologist Sigmund Freud and a celebrated sculptor herself, Jane drew on her heritage and artistic experience to make a thought-provoking speech on the evening’s themes.

Coming from a famous and religiously mixed family, Jane discussed both the Jewish and Catholic faiths impacting her heritage.

“My father was an atheist, whose father was Jewish and whose mother I understand was Christian. We are not sure if she was Jewish or not, but either way nobody at the time cared.”

“However I care, I care about my heritage and what my family did. I am fascinated by all the ironies. Religion-wise there seems to be a family dilemma regarding whose side to be on. I don’t like sides.”

Samantha Henning with her installation, celebrating the communities that have built Israel

Samantha Henning with her installation, celebrating the communities that have built Israel

Rather than focusing on sides, Jane emphasised that the ambiguity was a starting point for learning and creating a new sense of identity.

“Identity is important and by the same token it is unimportant. What is important on a global level is finding common ground rather than difference. As Sigmund Freud said – what we suffer from is ‘the narcissism of small differences’.”

Jane encouraged the students to look within themselves, highlighting Leonardo de Vinci’s mantra that ‘there is no greater mastery than the mastery of oneself’.

“I believe that all the answers are in the mirror,” she said, adding that it is the artist’s job to channel that self and create.

Drawing on the presence of Israel in the student’s work, Jane mentioned the conflict in the Middle East. She recently went on a trip to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, where she ran a series of creative workshops with children from both sides of the conflict. 

“Art is not politics, it is art,” she said of her work there. “It is not the job of the artist to judge.” Jane said she was, “truly impressed” by the array of the student’s work, adding that “It looks fantastic.”

She praised the young artists for being the “universal unexpressed expression in all of us”, and added as Jewish artists, their creativity is a vehicle for expressing a complex history and powerful identity.

“I was worried about not knowing enough about Judaism, but I realised it’s all about looking in the mirror” Jane revealed.

“Do look at your Judaism, do look at yourself. Don’t let it hinder you – let it help you.”