A Stitch in Jewish Time

Provocative Textiles

The Jewish Institute of Religion Museum at New York’s Hebrew Union College explores Jewish beliefs through the wit and imagination of contemporary textile artists. A Stitch in Jewish Time: Provocative Textiles addresses history, religious rituals, examines aspects of prayer, sexuality, feminism through Biblical texts by challenging traditional art forms.
 
Typically religious artifacts have been represented via precious metals and gemstones, carved rare woods, porcelain and blown glass and with the exception of tapestries of the Renaissance and Baroque periods in Europe, textiles arts were not considered fine art. The artists exhibited in a Stitch in Time, however, take textiles and other media to create provocative art works based on Jewish historical and religious traditions.
In “Deez Nites Be All Da Same to Me” quilters Leslie Golumb and Louise Silk present a series of four quilts--silk screened and hand embroidered on commercially dyed cotton— that explore the concepts of assimilation, prejudice, and stereotyping by telling a different Passover story by comparing the experience of Jewish southern slave owners with the plight of the Jews from Egyptian slavery.
 
Conjugal matters of orthodox women are explored by Andi Arnovitz whose “Coat of the Agunah” is represented by scanned digital segments of antique ketubbot (Jewish marriage contract). Arnovitz creates a restrictive dress that symbolizes the trappings of failed or abusive marriages where divorce is not granted or agreed upon by the husbands or the Bet Din, the high religious court.
 
Textiles also show the joy and beauty of ritual in a provocative fashion as demonstrated via Jacqueline Nicholl’s “The In-Between Yeshiva.” Nichols created a Sefer Torah corset from synamay and ribbons, which is based on woman’s pregnant form. In the Talmud in Niddah 30a, the fetus is poetically described as learning Torah from an angel in the womb. During birth, the angel strikes the baby, forming the indent in the upper lip, causing the baby to forget all the knowledge that he or she once knew. Nicholl’s explains the piece via her website, “I have always understood this piece from the fetus’ perspective. We are to spend our lives retrieving the knowledge that was once ours. Torah is not a new thing for us, but a retracing of prior learning.”
 
Although fashion played a large role in Greg Lauren’s life (he’s the nephew of the designer Ralph Lauren), Lauren went in the direction of art where he constructs a story of his life through Japanese paper and other mixed media. In his recollections of  coming to age,  for his "Bar Mitzvah Boy," Lauren crafted a blazer and tallit all stitched in paper.
 
One of the more touching and haunting installations is Jane Trigere’s piece honoring the memory of the German-Jewish refugee women who attended services in Ohav Sholaum Synagogue in the Inwood section of Manhattan. In “Women of the Balcony IV” Trigere took old cushion textiles from the women’s balcony and transforms them into the brightly colored fabric as their hair that she covered with hats representing all the decades the synagogue existed. Molded plastic heads with noses gently restructured create variety of profiles. The faces were layered with pages of a tehinnes in German. These books were designed especially for women and only prayers that women would need or want. The women stand behind the triangular mehitza that’s draped in parachute silks, further separating them from the men in the gallery below.
 
A Stitch in Jewish Time: Provocative Textiles encompasses both humor and poignancy, and leaves viewers with unforgettable and unconventional images and understanding of Jewish values.
 
A Stitch in Jewish Time is at the Hebrew Union College museum in New York through June 11, 2011. For more information, please visit: http://huc.edu/museums/ny

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