A “kosher gnome” and everything’s ok? A conversation with Anna Adam

Woman leaning on a jamb

Anna Adam, “Pastoral care for a German-Polish border post”, March 2015 © Jalda Rebling

It’s not easy to find the way there. Good thing that the artist picked me up at the nearest subway station in Berlin’s Wedding district. Together we cross the courtyards of various businesses, pass a halal diner, climb a staircase, and suddenly we’re standing in front of the door of her atelier. Hardly has Anna opened it when I see the “kosher gnome”, observing the world through his binoculars.

It’s this figure that the artist reproduced in paper cut-out form on a card for our art vending machine: you cut the card and fold it to create a three-dimensional object. The instructions state that you should set him in your kitchen and then everything will be ok.

Atelier Door with "Kosher Gnome"

Atelier Door with “Kosher Gnome” © Jewish Museum Berlin, Photography: Gelia Eisert

Anna, what does the odd name “kosher gnome” mean? How do “kosher” and “gnome” even fit together? How will everything be ok? I’m confused.

At home, a wichtel (in the original German) is an important little man. There are a lot of these “important men”. My “kosher gnome” was born in 2002. He’s definitely supposed to be confusing. “Kosher” and “gnome” fit together because I committed myself to the task of “healing the German-Jewish sickness”, as I call it. To that end I work with satirical means, which – unlike comedy – take everyday politics as a starting point.

You mentioned the year it was born. What were the circumstances of the “kosher gnome”‘s birth?

Paper Cut-out Version

The Finished Paper Cut-out Version
© Jewish Museum Berlin, Photography: Jens Ziehe

At that time I had started a delicatessen (Feinkostladen) for the Jewish Museum at Franken in Fürth. When people asked if I was serving “heavy food” (schwere Kost), I would tell them, “Oh no, it’s fine food” (Feinkost). Thus came into being “Fine-Food Adam ©”. I had also created some art objects for the museum that you could search for in the exhibition with the help of a kind of treasure map. There were satirical texts as well, that complemented the installation. This is an object from the exhibition, my book “Jewish Breathing: an introduction to exhaled happiness”. The accompanying beverage “Fallowblossom Rose of Jericho”, which supported “inner opening”, is unfortunately all gone – it was really good.

I flip through the pages of the book, observing the dramaturgical escalation: approaching the “Jewish soul” through “Jewish breathing.” I can’t help blurting out, “But Anna, this is absurd!”

Scan from a book, on the left scetch of a woman, on the right "Atmen" (breath).

Scan from: Anna Adam, Jewish Breathing: introduction to exhaled happiness. Translated into German by San Qui, Fine-Food Adam, Berlin 2002. © Anna Adam

At exhibitions by the Jewish artists’ group “Meshulash” (Hebrew for ‘triangle’), to which I belonged, I would hear comments from dedicated ‘semitophiles’ like “the Jewish people are just so different”. The drawings for the book emerged impromptu, after that experience.

Although this all appears light and ironic, the delicatessen in Fürth was anything but delicate for the public, the press, and the Jewish community. You were even called an anti-Semite.

Kosher gnome on window sill

“Kosher gnome” sculpture © Jewish Museum Berlin, Photo: Gelia Eisert

That complaint proved itself absurd and it was thrown out. Satire was very unfamiliar territory in that context and even Jews projected everything imaginable onto it. The press were tripping over themselves. It was the birthing hour of my “kosher gnome”. I got the advice to “marry a good religious man, and then you’ll settle down and won’t need to do things like this”. I took a deep breath and answered: “Darling. Women like me don’t need to marry a man like that, we just build him.” And that’s what I did. And look, here he is: he’s perfect, he’s smaller than I am, petite like Napoleon, keeps his mouth shut, and makes sure that everything is kosher.

You and your gnome are nearly inseparable. I saw that he is even with you on the “Happy Hippy Jew Bus” on tours through Germany.

Women talking with a small group of students, bus in front

Anna Adam in conversation with international students © Anna Adam

The person who is really always with me is my life partner Jalda Rebling, a musician and Jewish cantor. We tour with the “BEA” – that’s what our current bus is called – and look for pedestrian areas and schools, where we can work to soften clichés and prejudices through satirical means. The bus is designed à la ‘peace and love with a German car’ so that people cannot stay so serious or afflicted about the subject of Judaism. Some funny things are housed in the bus, things that explain a lot. We’ve been going on these tours since 2011, at first with “BEN” but, sadly, the German Association for Technical Inspection took him away from us.

Gelia Eisert – who can’t guarantee her own impartiality – had this conversation with Anna Adam.

P.S.: When Anna isn’t driving in the bus, she teaches art and social sculpture at a private art conservatory in Berlin. She also paints enchanting oil paintings with motifs “from memory” and illustrates children’s books. Her imaginative dioramas for the book “Beni, Grandma and her Secret” were on display in her atelier.

P.P.S.: Further information about the artwork and the other artists of the art vending machine can be found here.

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