Publication Date

Summer 2013

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Art and Art History


Beverly Grindstaff


art, Holocaust, identity, Jewish, semiotics

Subject Areas

Art history; Judaic studies; Holocaust studies


The construction of American Jewish identity has historically balanced efforts to reconcile acceptance into majority culture with maintaining traditional Jewish heritage. Expression of Jewish identity in a "diasporic community" has often been anchored in communal rituals and sociopolitical events, especially the Holocaust, uniting an increasingly diverse community. Beginning in the late twentieth century, the figure of the "post-Jew" and post-Jewish identity emerged alongside pluralist multiculturalism as an alternate identity framework recognizing the hybrid character of Jewish American identity as a combination of inherited and selected elements.

This thesis examines the manifestation of post-Jewish identity in artistic responses to the Holocaust as reflections of a distinctly American perspective and discusses the iconographic language of the Holocaust as a living identity constantly re-formed and informed by individual experience and cultural surroundings. Third and fourth-generation Jewish American artists engage the visual language of the Holocaust by applying emotionally charged imagery in new ways. In so doing, they contemplate their own connection to the images that ground their understanding of the Holocaust. Stylistic and thematic shifts in post-Jewish works thus constitute efforts to navigate inherent tension between historical and experiential identity as well as the broader cultural transference of collective memory within contemporary society.