I s it unusual to be unusual? For a group of artists showing their work in a Jerusalem exhibition this month, the answer is: it shouldn’t be.

As part of the Jerusalem Biennale, a bi-annual show of art that runs through November 16, curator Noa Lea Cohen has created an exhibition called “Popthodox/Black Humor.” The reference is to the Pop Art movement of the 1950s, an often ironic and somewhat subversive style that poked fun at well-loved American icons, and the Israeli slang term “schachorim,” (blacks) which refers to chareidi Jews. The work is amusing, whimsical, moving — yet always respectful of the culture. Still, it’s clear the artists are making a larger point.

In one work, perhaps the exhibition’s signature piece, 12 chassidim with shtreimels are depicted walking in silhouette. They are nearly identical save for one small detail: one of them is wearing orange socks. It’s a piece that speaks to the conformity of a culture and a small (meaningless?) act of rebellion that distinguishes one person from another.

In another piece, a painting divided into four sections, a Zippo lighter appears alongside a set of Shabbos candles, and a martini glass is situated beside a Shabbos becher. On one level, the piece figuratively asks, why not? Is it forbidden to make Kiddush in a martini glass? Would Zippo lighters not suffice as Shabbos lights? (Not that anyone is suggesting we do that.) On a second level, the piece calls attention to our own iconic items, the objects we revere.

For curator Cohen, the exhibition is an important step forward for chareidi art.

“I see this as part of a renaissance in the Orthodox community,” says Cohen, a Netanya native who is working toward her doctorate in art history at Bar Ilan University.

She is careful to say that the ideas and works found in the exhibit don’t represent the feelings or aspirations of everyone in the frum world, but the show does provide a useful meeting point for those who find themselves in the work. “I wouldn’t say that I’m going to represent the whole chareidi community,” says Cohen, who has been the curator since 2014 at the Art Shelter Gallery in Makor Baruch, the first gallery to showcase chareidi artists. “I just give a voice to something that exists. You can’t neglect it and say it doesn’t exist. You can’t say ‘I don’t see it, it’s not here.’ ”

In a larger sense, the exhibit could only take place now, when the frum world is growing larger and more confident of its role in society.

“The chiddush is that we are proud of ourselves and we’re okay with our identity and we are mature enough to play with it, even make fun of it,” Cohen says. “We’re not afraid, we’re confident. It’s a statement. It’s a seismograph of what’s happening in the chareidi community.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 684)