A recent tumblr find, led me to the remarkable work of Stacyann Chin.
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.
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?”
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, 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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Shomer Negiah is a concept in Jewish law halacha that prohibits any degree of physical contact with, or touching of, a member of the opposite sex, except for one’s spouse and immediate family. Shomer means “guards”, but due to its common use in phrases relating to religious practice, it has come to mean: “adhere to” as well. Negiah is the Hebrew word for “touch”, and thus Shomer Negiah is a term used to describe one who “guards the touch” or simply “adheres to restrictions of touch”. Although the feminine form of the term is technically Shomeret Negiah, it is almost always used in the masculine, even when in reference to women. Shomer Negiah Panties allow a woman to abide by the halacha, but still be individual and sexy at the same time.
Rald Institute’s mission is to assist at risk children and individuals with learning, social-emotional, and other disabilities. We strive to enhance self-worth while strengthening cognitive and affective domains. We work to increase public awareness of various disabilities and function as advocates. The institute supports schools by providing technical assistance to staff. Rald provides experiences in the arts because we believe such experiences help children expand critical thinking, increase imagination and develop an appreciation for cultural diversity. Inclusive art workshops are offered at no cost to children. The institute is run by volunteers and there are no charges for services to individuals.
here is a link to an abc special on Beverly’s work.
Beverly Normand, Ph.D., Founder and President, is a consultant for public and private schools in Illinois, and is lecturer and adjunct professor for several universities. She recently retired from the Office of Specialized Services, Chicago Public Schools, after thirty-four years of service as Special Education Teacher, Citywide Instructional Specialist, and Facilitator for School Based Problem Solving/Response to Intervention programs in Psychology and Special Education. She earned degrees from Roosevelt University, DePaul University and Chicago State University. She was a contributing writer for several publications of Chicago Public Schools, is the recipient of numerous educational awards, special recognitions, and various grants. She has written and hosted several educational television programs, has been published in numerous journals and magazines and has participated in various research projects.
A poet, designer, lyricist and patron of the arts, she has collaborated with artists and musicians on special projects and has planned and coordinated cultural programs and art exhibitions for school children, churches and other institutions throughout her adult life.
Serving as Commissioner of Religion and Race for the United Methodist Church in the South Shore Community of Chicago for twenty years, Normand developed activities and programs to support African American history and culture, while also planning activities and programs to strengthen multi-cultural exchange and diversity training. She served as editor for the Nimbus publication for many years.
Normand has helped thousands of pupils, parents, teachers, ancillary teams and school administrators, and is highly respected for her integrity, creativity and skills. “I believe in interdisciplinary instruction and all curricula that stimulate the imagination and lead us away from mediocrity and complacency. The mission of Rald Institute is to reduce the at-risk population, support children and individuals with special needs in a manner which leads to self-actualization, support as many parents and teachers as we can, and help twenty-first century educational leaders maintain integrity and democratic forms of leadership, while problem solving.”