Anne Grant collects T-shirts. Not just any T-shirts. Jewish T-shirts.
The 23-year-old has roughly 100 of them, purchased through eBay, donated by friends, gathered from bar mitzvahs.
It all started about a year ago, when a friend showed her the Hillel sweatband she had gotten from the University of Pennsylvania. “I thought the object was really fascinating because it seemed to be appropriating from fraternity culture,” she said.
Slowly but surely, the collection grew, and Grant started to find meaning in the seemingly innocuous items. “I realized that this had potential to be a visual culture project,” she said. And so, Shmattes was born.
This emphasis on cultural Judaism was highlighted in the Pew Research Center’s “Portrait of American Jews,” in October 2013. The “negative” reactions she saw in the American Jewish community spurred Grant to redouble her collection efforts.
“I’m one of those people who identifies as culturally Jewish. It really irked me reading the Pew study and seeing culturally Jewish people getting the shaft from Jewish institutions. I’m of the mind that you can’t throw trips at people in the hopes of molding them into the kind of Jew you want.”
Grant, who says she “wasn’t raised Jewish at all,” actually ended up majoring in Jewish studies at the University of Virginia. She’s now pursuing a PhD at Vanderbilt University focusing on cultural Judaism.