‘I am a Jew’ posters aim to bring a positive message to Australian streets

Two posters reading I am a Jew on a busy street.
I am a Jew posters have been displayed across busy Melbourne and Sydney streets. Image supplied.

A new community art project designed to encourage open conversations about Judaism has already been met with vandalism.

A public art project has painted the streets of Melbourne and Sydney blue and white, with the aim of humanising the Jewish community amid rising tensions and acts of antisemitism following the October 7 attacks.

Several I am a Jew’ posters have been plastered across main streets and in busy pedestrian zones over the past week, helping to depict the multiculturalism of Judaism. The initiative is the brainchild of a Melbourne-based artist and activist who wants the Australian Jewish community to “take control of the narrative”.

Each of the individuals featured in the posters are from Israel – made possible through a collaboration with the artist’s photographer brother – and have a diverse background. Among those spotlighted so far include a Turkish/Libyan Jew, Tunisian/Deutsch Jew and a Syrian/Lithuanian Jew.

This decision to depict Israeli Jews was influenced by a desire to safeguard the local Australian Jewish community from harm.

“We had a very tangible, practical reason to use Israelis as the subjects for the images. There is a level of protection, ironically, within the community in Israel that we don’t have in the diaspora. I didn’t like the idea of the faces of this campaign being in danger.”

The artist behind the project has remains anonymous – a choice that is leading some to question the integrity of a project which focuses on being proud and vocal about one’s ties to Judaism. But the artist argues the initiative should not belong to just one person.

“There’s something very powerful about an artist who is anonymous because all of a sudden, the person who views the work becomes the author of that work in a way. They’re projecting their own feelings onto it, their own story, their own emotion,” they said.

“I think having [the posters] as a community-driven project, rather than an individual-driven project, is a more powerful gesture.”

Woman wearing a yellow top and black pants walks past two I am a Jew posters.
The ‘I am a Jew’ project aims to depict the diversity of the Jewish community. Image supplied.

The artist hopes the work will address the reflexive attitude to Jews and Israel that is widespread in the arts community.

“One pattern that I noticed, especially within the arts communities, was the narrative about colonial/settler mentality, which as a brown, Jewish woman, I felt confronted by,” the artist said.

“Having conversations with my family, it naturally came about [to have] a very simple message saying that Jews aren’t just from one place or they’re not just white. The concept is really … to not allow people to redefine our own identity.”

The project has already been embraced by the Jewish community, who have taken to social media and WhatsApp groups to spread the word. The Jewish Museum of Australia has also come on board to house the posters as part of its exhibition.

Those who wish can also create custom posters including their own photograph.

But some posters have already been defaced, a sign of the struggle to promote and celebrate Jewish identity in the current climate. A police report has also been filed following a threat made to the project’s Instagram account.

“All the faces of the images were torn out, which I found quite hurtful. Obviously [the project] is a commentary. It’s highlighting the difference as much as highlighting the hatred … and the sideism that we’re seeing in the greater world.

“It’s a living art piece, and so I think something simple like this has a lot of energy in it and it creates a lot of conversation. It educates, it provokes, it’s an act of alliance and support. It’s adding a bit of blue and white in a sea of green and red and black.”

The I am a Jew initiative is inspired by the recent guerilla-style #KidnappedFromIsrael art campaign involving posters of the Israeli hostages kidnapped on October 7, which were designed and created by New York City-based Israelis and then spread across the world.

The artist hopes this project will function not only as a positive message alongside the Kidnapped campaign but one that will “live beyond the war”. A second round of images is set to be released next week.

For the artist, the ideal scenario would see as many people as possible printing the catalogue of available images and placing them around their communities, wherever they live, on a routine basis – which for the artist, is weekly, keeping the message front of mind for Australians and encouraging active debate.

“We’re part of this very multicultural society. There’s this strange obsession with critiquing other people’s identities and culture, and Jews are very multicultural. It is supposed to start that conversation.”

I am a Jew is supported by Plus61J Media. Join the campaign here.