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In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Oxossi Ayofemi and Risa Wechsler

An ancient Talmudic study principle reinterpreted by artist Oxossi Ayofemi in collaboration with Stanford physicist Risa Wechsler.

July 26, 2018–July 30, 2019


(San Francisco, CA, June 1, 2018) Dialogue has always been an integral part of learning in traditional Jewish contexts. The Talmud states, “Just as in the case of iron, when one implement sharpens another, so too do two scholars sharpen each other.”

The Contemporary Jewish Museum repurposes the centuries-old practice of havruta—the study of religious texts by people in pairs—for the contemporary art community. An ongoing exhibition series, In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art, brings individual Bay Area artists together with a scholar, scientist, writer, or other professional of his or her choice for a ten-week fellowship in creativity. The resulting collaborations are presented in The Museum’s Sala Webb Education Center.

In this most recent installation, visual artist Oxossi Ayofemi and her chosen havruta partner, groundbreaking Stanford physicist Risa Wechsler, present Black Matter, an exhibition that explores the concept of dark matter and dark energy in physics, as a principle resonant with everyday magic in urban space, notions of presence and absence, and latent abundance in African American culture.

Black Matter foregrounds forms of power and energy that are often unrecognized and unseen but circulate in a state of transformation. Ayofemi’s research for the exhibition has also included Black Power, deserts, cities, waterfalls, and break dancing as sources and models of continuous energy. 

The exhibition includes transcribed texts of Ayofemi’s conversations with Wechsler, photographs, video works, dance, and a cosmic soundscape.

Supporting sponsorship for In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art—Oxossi Ayofemi and Risa Wechsler is generously provided by Al and Rosanne Levitt.

The Contemporary Jewish Museum thanks The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for Lead Sponsorship of The Museum’s exhibition program.


Oxossi Ayofemi

Oxossi Ayofemi is an artist inspired by everyday utopian forms. Her works of art are experiences that mingle the senses and cross material with the immaterial. Ayofemi’s current activation of urban economy and urban landscape in Oakland and San Francisco includes temporary rock bands, landscapes, danceworks, quilts, soundscapes, and acts of sustenance and soul food. Ayofemi’s work has been presented by the Kadist Art Foundation, SFMOMA, Southern Exposure, The Carpenter Center, The Wattis Institute, the Asian Art Museum, The New Museum's New Inc, dOCUMENTA, the British Arts Council, and Chicago’s Rebuild Foundation. Born in Brooklyn and based in California, Ayofemi has an MFA in Studio Art from Stanford University.


Risa Wechsler

Risa Wechsler is an Associate Professor of Physics at Stanford and at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where she has been a faculty member and a member of the Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology since 2006. She is a cosmologist who studies the evolution and contents of the universe from its earliest moments to the present day using large numerical simulations and data from surveys of hundreds of millions of galaxies. Her work uses a wide range of statistical and computational tools to make use of the largest existing cosmological simulations and the largest galaxy surveys that are being pursued to learn about the nature of dark energy and dark matter and the physics of galaxy formation.  


The Jewish Tradition of Havruta

In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art draws inspiration from the traditional Jewish learning method of studying the Talmud in pairs, havruta. The Talmud itself is a book of scholarly exchange with writings outlining Jewish law by multiple rabbinic authors in two parts—the Mishnah, a transcription of the Oral Torah (c. 200 CE) and the Gemara, commentary on the laws (c. 500 CE). There are approximately 120 known authors of the Mishnah alone. Contrasted with the university model where students passively listen to lectures to absorb information, havruta demands active participation and engagement with the texts being studied. The root word haver—“friend” in Hebrew—emphasizes the communal nature of learning, and the havruta learning model reflects the Jewish affinity for asking questions and grappling with complex topics, together.


Related Programs

Havruta: In That CaseDark Matter
Thursday, Aug 9; 6:30–8pm
Free with Museum admission

Artist Oxossi Ayofemi and Stanford physicist Risa Wechsler will discuss the elusive dark matter that fills the universe, alongside metaphors of power, presence, absence, economy, and abundance in African American pop culture, sound, and movement. Live performance following discussion.

Let’s Havruta
Daily during regular Museum hours


The Museum invites you to pull up a chair in the newly-remodeled Blue Cube space, sit with a friend or stranger, pick a prompt, and talk. Havruta is a centuries-old Jewish practice of studying important texts in pairs, repurposed for these fun lunchtime breaks as a chance to exchange ideas in a casual and game-inspired environment.


About The Contemporary Jewish Museum

With the opening of its new building on June 8, 2008, The Contemporary Jewish Museum ushered in a new chapter in its twenty-plus year history of engaging audiences and artists in exploring contemporary perspectives on Jewish culture, history, art, and ideas. The facility, designed by internationally renowned architect Daniel Libeskind, is a lively center where people of all ages and backgrounds can gather to experience art, share diverse perspectives, and engage in hands-on activities. Inspired by the Hebrew phrase “L’Chaim” (To Life), the building is a physical embodiment of The CJM’s mission to bring together tradition and innovation in an exploration of the Jewish experience in the twenty-first century.

Major support for The Contemporary Jewish Museum’s exhibitions and Jewish Peoplehood Programs comes from the Koret Foundation. The Museum also thanks the Jim Joseph Foundation for its major support of innovative strategies for educating and engaging audiences in Jewish learning. Additional major support is provided by two Anonymous donors; Alyse and Nathan Mason Brill; Carbon Five; Gaia Fund; the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation; Grants for the Arts; Walter and Elise Haas Fund; Suzanne and Elliott Felson; Wendy Kesser; Maribelle and Stephen Leavitt; Nellie and Max Levchin; Millennium Partners, the Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund; Dorothy R. Saxe; Seiger Family Foundation; Taube Philanthropies for Jewish Life and Culture; and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Thank you to the Helen Diller Family Foundation for their support of the Helen Diller Institute at The Contemporary Jewish Museum.

General Information

The Museum is open daily (except Wednesday) 11am–5pm and Thursday, 11am–8pm. Museum admission is $14 for adults, $12 for students and senior citizens with a valid ID, and $5 on Thursdays after 5pm. Youth 18 and under always get in free. For general information on The Contemporary Jewish Museum, the public may visit The Museum’s website at or call 415.655.7800. The Contemporary Jewish Museum is located at 736 Mission Street (between Third & Fourth streets), San Francisco. 

For more information about The Contemporary Jewish Museum, visit The Museum’s website at


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