Former Squirrel Hill resident returns for one-night art exhibit
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Former Squirrel Hill resident returns for one-night art exhibit

After making Berkeley home, Julia Netzer brings 'Be My Bruise' to Pittsburgh

"Howl," by Julia Netzer
"Howl," by Julia Netzer

Berkeley-based artist Julia Netzer is returning to Pittsburgh for a one-night show. “Be My Bruise,” scheduled for Nov. 25 at Iron City Circus Arts in the Brew House Lofts, features Netzer’s works and live musical performances from Panther Hollow (Bernardo Ochoa) and Naomi Anderson.

Netzer, who was bat mitzvahed and confirmed at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill, told the Chronicle that coming home is a chance to demonstrate many of the values the artist derived from the community years ago.

“Something that was really drilled into me was always looking at things from multiple sides and questioning the obvious,” Netzer, 29, said. “That is such an artistic perspective, and just a beautiful life lesson, that I feel very lucky to have learned early on.”

“Toy With Me” by Julia Netzer

“Be My Bruise,” Netzer told the Chronicle, was inspired by an accidental stop within the Big Apple: “I stumbled into a boxing gym when I was last walking through New York, and I fell in love with the old leather and the muted tones and colors.”

Netzer tapped that energy and converted it into a series of gritty, emotionally charged works. One of Netzer’s images is of a bloodied boxer with a tattooed arm reading “tender.” Another image is of a fighter and someone standing behind her, carefully adjusting a strand of the boxer’s hair.

There’s an aggressive hyper-masculinity of a 1940s boxing ring, but beneath the posturing is a tenderness, Netzer said: “Through the feminine and queer lens, I am beginning to unravel the layers of these traditional, sometimes restrictive narratives.”

That exploration, the Berkeley resident said, is a departure from earlier artistic pursuits, which were “a bit more dreamy, natural and in a gentler realm.” This exhibit is “something more to chew on, possibly even a little more uncomfortable.”

Netzer is excited to probe history in a historical space like Pittsburgh, they said.

Before moving to California to pursue documentary film, the vicenarian’s upbringing was quite familiar: There were regular performances in Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh musicals, routine attendance at Hebrew school and a swath of Jewish friends.

“Round Three,” by Julia Netzer

“I spent so much of my life in Squirrel Hill as a child. It’s so intrinsically in me, it’s hard to even tease out what it is,” Netzer said.

But when pushed to extract those elements, certain themes arise.

“There’s a deep sense of a historical community that feels really embedded in a lot of my work,” Netzer said.

There’s also a Jewish aspect.

Throughout childhood Netzer and their peers were “constantly in conversation about one’s culture, how vast that word is, how vast that concept is, and how all these different people kind of moved through their own Jewishness really differently but with similar themes.”

Berkeley has “its own flair, its own sense of Judaism as well,” Netzer said. “Being Jewish in Squirrel Hill, you’re not very different; but being Jewish in many other places can be very othering, and not always in a bad way.”

Teasing that tension through art — especially at home in front of friends and family — can be a rush, Netzer said: “Maybe they’ll enjoy some art. Maybe they’ll hate some art. Either way, it’s fun for me.” PJC

“Be My Bruise” is Nov. 25, from 5-9 p.m., at Iron City Circus Arts on the South Side. Reservations available at https://rb.gy/ik99z9

Adam Reinherz can be reached at areinherz@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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