Blurring Boundaries Between Jewish Denominations

July 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Excerpt from the Tzit Tzit: Fiber Art and Jewish Identity Exhibition Catalog, by curator Ben Schacter.

Maya Escobar is a Latina Jew who relishes her ability to blur the boundaries not only between cultures but Jewish denominations. Her Shomer Negiah Panites is an extreme example. The expression shomer negiah refers to the law that limits sexual relations. While a women is menstruating and for several days after, she is not allowed to touch her husband. At the end of this time, she takes a ritual bath called a mikvah.  This monthly ritual balances abstinence, cleanliness and intimacy.  It is said by those who follow this tradition that time together is made even more precious.

Shomer Negiah Panties
Shomer Negiah Panties, 2005

Escobar’s work seems to turn this custom on its ear.  First, sexuality in the Orthodox community is not publicly displayed.  Underwear or anything remotely like it would not be shown in public.  Second, part of the function of shomer negiah is one of modesty, not one to tease.  But in a twist of modernity, the “tease” can be a way of female control.  To exclaim, “Hands Off!” at precisely the moment of greatest vulnerability is exactly what Escobar’s underwear does.

Heckshered Tallis presents an air of transgression without doing so.  A hecksher is a stamp placed on food to certify that its ingredients and method of processing follows the dietary rules observed by many Jews, called Kashrut.  The symbols themselves have nothing to do with prayer and do not belong on a tallis, or prayer shawl, but the obsessive imprimatur suggests an over compensation on the part of the wearer. Women are not required to wear such garments but some congregants of more liberal egalitarian congregations do.  Is Escobar suggesting women’s insecurity by obsessively certifying this tallis as “Kosher?”

Maya Escobar Heckshered Tallis
Kosher Davening, 2006

The pattern of heckshers also creates a fashion akin to a Louis Vuitton print where the fabric is paradigmatic of luxury.  Hechshered Tallis brings high fashion and religion together in a satisfyingly truthful and critical way.  Even more interesting is the way Escobar’s work comments on different traditions and laws through fashion.  Escobar’s oeuvre highlights denominational fragmentation by drawing attention to certain details of Jewish life.  The traditional woman who follows shomer negiah would most likely not wear a tallis.  Identity is rarely mixed in this way.  For an artist to be able to make cross-denominational commentary such as found in Shomer Negiah Panties and Heckshered Tallis takes keen observation. Escobar does not exempt her own experience from such examination.

As she shared with me, her family chided her to make napkins for her future, now husband.  This traditional role, that is to make the home, chaffed her mildly.  She was resistant to such commonplace assumptions about gender so to exaggerate the request, she embroidered “napkin for my husband” across hand woven fabric.  Her actions as a wife would thus never be taken for granted.

Napkin For My Husband
Napkin For My Husband, 2007

Napkin has been given an additional function, as a challah cover.  One covers the challah, or bread made specifically to honor the Sabbath, before the blessing is said and the bread is cut.  To embellish a cover heightens the ritual by making the objects beautiful.  Napkin tethers together Jewish practice and the work of a relationship.  Through her demonstrated knowledge of Jewish custom in her work, one wonders if she also knows Eishet Hayil, a song sung in  praise of one’s wife.  “A good wife, who can find?  She is precious far beyond rubies.” Perhaps Escobar is not so passive aggressively demanding to be serenaded.

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The Cuentos Foundation

February 28, 2008 § Leave a comment

I just submitted the work of Michele Feder-Nadoff, to the magazine I work for Zeek. Michele is a dear friend and a phenomenal artist, activist and educator. I thought it would be a good idea to share some information about Michele and to promote her organization the cuentos foundation.

Artistic Director, Michele Feder-Nadoff, who is Jewish, founded Cuentos in 1998 with the humanist vision and commitment to tikkun haolam, a Jewish principal expressing each person’s responsibility to play a part in “healing the world.” Cuentos members believe art is a transformative catalyst for effecting positive social change. Our work combats prejudice and discrimination through artistic and educational intergenerational projects and programs promoting mutual understanding.

The abundance of cultural wealth living doorstep to doorstep in our neighborhoods provide all of us an opportunity to engage with and learn about each others’ backgrounds. What connects us and how can live in peace together, connected by mutual understanding and appreciation of different cultures from around the globe?

 

CUENTOS PROGRAM OBJECTIVES:

To design programs that promote strong personal and cultural identity, as well as cultivate the ability to positively engage and communicate across cultures. We believe these are the keys for empowering youth, families, and communities with the capacity for participating in positive social change and mutual understanding.

To provide reciprocal learning/ educating of artistic strategies and art-making practices, techniques, traditions, such as copper-smithing, poetry writing & publishing, performance, curating.

To provide a safe, nurturing, extremely creative environment to test out ideas, performance, theater, music, a poem, or an exhibition idea in Cuentos’ storefront windows or space.

To empower through collective practices: A place to collaborate with others from similar and different backgrounds.

To make cross-cultural links and networks between groups.

To use art across disciplines to give projects a holistic and contextualized vision.

To develop the acquisition of transferable skills and knowledge: artistic, social, and cultural.

To provide an opportunity to express differences in cultural heritage, history, and traditions.

To act as an incubator for creating community connections and fellowship.

check out their new book: Ritmo de Fuego

Ritmo del Fuego / Rhythm of Fire is a unique achievement, telling the story of the deep-seated copperworking tradition of Santa Clara del Cobre, an ancient community in the forested mountains of Michoacán, Mexico. What is often seen as “folk art” is shown to stem from early workshops established in Michoacán during the 8th-9th centuries AD, by coastal traders and artisans from the Andean Region of South America. Since then, the manufactures have included utilitarian and ornamental objects. Many have been recovered at archaeological sites, most notably from the 15th century Tarascan Kingdom. Others embrace forms of Spanish origin after the 16th century conquest. Today in the expanding international market, Santa Clara copperwares include a wide range of sophisticated decorative vases, pitchers, trays, dinner wares and related forms. A vital community has evolved with this ongoing tradition, portrayed with affection and care by the project organizer Michele Feder-Nadoff, and the many other authors in this remarkable, well written contribution to the cultural history of the Americas.

click here to purchase

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