The group known as the Jewish Adelaide Feminist Lesbians (or JAFL, for short) held its first meeting while a baby was being born in 1989. For the next 30 years their practice of Judaism has been entwined with their commitment to feminism as their families have grown and merged. Alex Martinis Roe’s latest exhibition, Coming Home, is devoted to the history of JAFL, and its own unique, complex, queer genealogy.
Martinis Roe will often spend months or years researching a group for an artwork. The artist searches for people who live in a communal way, in an intentionally political network. JAFL was a group the artist was intimate with (two of its members are her aunts), but when Martinis Roe conducted interviews with JAFL’s 10 members, she discovered a deep chronology of personal history that she then converted into an epic timeline of this chosen family. The JAFL group biography highlights aspects of the genealogy of its members, marking births and deaths alongside a history of Jewish migration, worship and persecution, as ancestors suffered pogroms and the violence of the 20th century. The final family tree spans 48 metres of wall space.
Martinis Roe uses the ‘family tree’ pattern to outline a history that goes beyond shared genetics. “I’m concerned with using stock-standard tropes to describe non-biological relationships, or non-biological relations,” the artist says. After following the tree from roots to leaves, visitors can watch three videos explaining the group’s interpersonal dynamic, their feminist and queer activism, and their personal adaption of Jewish ritual practice. Viewers are invited to sit on floor cushions created and gifted by JAFL to the exhibition visitors; here you can sit cross-legged on the floor, listening intently to the wisdom of aunts.
Alex Martinis Roe
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts
22 October—9 January 2022
This article was originally published in the November/December 2021 print edition of Art Guide Australia.