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From a place of love: contemporary jewellery speaks Judaism

Article  /  CriticalThinking   KatiaRabey
Published: 09.05.2019
Katia Rabey Katia Rabey
Author:
Katia Rabey
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Barcelona
Edited on:
2019
Tamar Paley. Neckpiece: Talit, 2017. German silver (alpaca), printed textile, gold foil, printed parchment.. From series: A Fringe of Her Own. Tamar Paley
Neckpiece: Talit, 2017
German silver (alpaca), printed textile, gold foil, printed parchment.
From series: A Fringe of Her Own
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
From its very beginning religion has always been tightly connected to jewellery: the objects of worship, the symbols of affiliation, sacred images and artifacts were often abundantly adorned to show both adoration of god and the high status of religion.
This connection still exists and even manages to infiltrate the field of contemporary jewellery, usually through the means of Critical Design. The term Critical Design was coined by British industrial designers and educators Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby and refers to design objects intended not for practical use, but for questioning and challenging the status-quo by making the viewer wonder what the world should look like in order for an object to exist in real life. Dunne and Raby used this term only when referring to industrial design objects, but it can be easily applied to contemporary jewellery because it exists – like objects of industrial critical design - somewhere between practical use and the world of fine art.

There are many examples of contemporary jewellery artists making critical statements about religion in their work. The criticism is usually intended to show up religion as being a sell-out, an empty shell or a totalitarian system that hurts more than it helps. For example, Dutch designer Pauline Barendse made a foldable crucifix called It’s Just a Box – the cross folds into a box likening Christian faith to being just a cover for inside emptiness. Frank Tjepkema’s Bling-Bling from afar looks like an abundantly decorated cross, but if you take a closer look you can see that it is in fact made out of many thin layers of gold-plated steel, perforated to form a chaotic ligature of dozens of modern brand logos  – from Nescafe and Apple to Playboy and Coca-Cola: the world of capital loves to wrap itself in the illusion of timeless beauty [1]. Another designer, Rebecca Masal, has also exploited the topic of capitalism and religion, making a cross pendant with a crucified Mickey Mouse on it and stating that the techniques that market the happy land of Mickey are exactly those used so successfully by North American Christian fundamentalists to market Christ [2].


Bling-Bling by Frank Tjepkema.


All of the above examples talk about Christianity, as our knowledge of contemporary jewellery is centered on and biased towards Western civilization. I too was born in a country where Christianity was a predominant religion, but in my early 20s I moved to Israel, a place where the field of contemporary jewelry is extremely well-developed and the religion plays quite a different role in society than Christianity in the majority of Western countries.

It is important to mention that the work of traditional goldsmiths and silversmiths to this day still stay in close connection with Judaism, resulting in an entire field named Judaica – an array of ritual objects and talismans with Jewish symbols. The style of these objects might be changing with time, being influenced by trends in fashion, architecture or even technology, but their sacred meanings and the ways they are used remain rooted in tradition.


From left to right: classic menorah for Hanukkah and modern menorah designed by Sari Srulovitch. The style evolves yet the function and meaning stay the same.


It’s not surprising, therefore, that some contemporary jewellery artists from Israel are choosing to work with this topic as well, creating critical statements about the religion of their homeland in a wearable form. What is surprising is that they are doing it from a place of love.

Arik Weiss, a contemporary Israeli artist who works in many media including jewellery, has noted that Judaism in art history experienced two general approaches: a serious and more archaic approach by religious artists and craftsmen and a critical approach by secular Jews. In the case of contemporary jewellery that speaks Judaism we can often see a kind of compromise between the two.

Tamar Paley, a young Jerusalem-born jewelry artist, considers herself a progressive Jewish woman. Her collection A Fringe of Her Own started out as a graduation project in 2017, but since then has grown in size and popularity, included in many exhibitions both in Israel and abroad - and some of its pieces have been acquired by the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

A Fringe of Her Own is Paley’s interpretation of traditional wearable ritual objects of Judaism – but made for women. For centuries Jewish women were kept in a position permanently inferior to men by orthodox tradition - not only socially, but particularly within Jewish spiritual practice.

Paley did not want to imitate what was already there – she wanted to create something new using the same source of Jewish heritage. So she conducted thorough research and discovered that the Jewish law does not directly prevent women from wearing traditional ritual objects like tzitzit, tallit (the prayer shawl) or tefillin (phylacteries); and neither does it provide instructions regarding the shape of those artifacts, merely stating you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes (what later became tefillin) and they [children of Israel] shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments which eventually turned into tzitzit and later tallit. Armed with this knowledge, Paley deconstructed traditional objects and put them back together again - but from a woman’s point of view.


Traditional Jewish ritual garments and objects for the reference. From left to right: the prayer shawl, phylactery, mezuzah.
Sources: The Messianic Prophecy Bible Project, ReformJudaism.org. Getty Images.



When asked what makes her interpretation of tzitzit, tallit and tefillin feminine, Paley responds that the first thing is her intention to make them for women.

Another trait that makes Paley’s work for women is that it is in fact jewellery. Paley feels that the tallit, tzitzit and tefillin are, in essence, accessories ordered by God, a wearable analogue reminder to fulfill all Jewish duties. Wearing her objects is a sacred and intimate experience, but it does not have to single the wearer out of the crowd and make her feel uncomfortable. In taking the form of jewellery, these artifacts give an ‘everyday’ feeling to the ritual of using them and wearing them (similar to the way in which an Orthodox man dresses in tzitzit every morning).

Arik Weiss shows a similar approach with his jewellery, even though his pieces are unisex. His Black Box ring series is a reference to tefillin, and even though it does not actually contain a prayer inside like a real tefillin does, it is, according to Weiss, a way to remember god in your everyday life, to incorporate religion in a mundane ritual.

Weiss himself admits to being a religious man, performing traditional rituals, keeping Shabbat and eating kosher food, but for him using direct references to Jewish symbols is not blasphemous as more orthodox observers would assume, but rather an artistic language that comes naturally. He thinks of Jewish artifacts as his colour palette with which he can paint whatever subject he wants – or whatever subject he feels most passionate about.

For instance, Weiss’s work Is There Also in White? – a white version of traditionally black phylacteries - addresses issues of race, reversing the colours and the meanings that come with them. The Other’s Home is another phylactery but with the unexpected addition of a golden dome, bringing up the heated debate about politics in Israel by referencing the Dome of the Rock - the Islamic shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. A traditional Jewish artifact combined with a symbol of Islamic sanctuary creates an image of peaceful co-existence as opposed to a never-ending struggle over holy places.

While The Other’s Home repeats the wearable shape of phylacteries in order to make a statement, it is not in fact wearable itself. However, Weiss’s other works – like Black Box or Isha Madlika (his take on Shabbat candles) - are not only statement pieces, but can perform the religious function of the prototypes they were based on. The same is true for his Kiddush To Go - a series of Kiddush cups mimicking the shape of McDonald’s paper cups but in mirror-polished sterling silver. This work – which can legitimately be used for performing Kiddush – might seem like a stand against capitalism, but for the artist it is something else. There are people who say that God can only be in holy places, but I don’t think so somehow. Every time I post my work on Instagram I add the hashtag #godisinthedetails – and I mean it literally, because God is everywhere, not just in the synagogue. God is in the coffee to go, in a street sign, in a ladder you put against the wall. And as for the capitalism – what is capitalism? It’s just everyday stuff. You already use your Mastercard for everything else, so maybe you can get closer to God with your Mastercard too.[3]

Another artist who recreates Jewish artifacts giving them new meaning is Sofia Zakharova, a soon-to-be graduate of Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. In her collection Shomrim she created a series of mezuzah (little cases containing a rolled-up parchment with a prayer that is fixed to the doorpost of Jewish homes). However, Sofia’s mezuzot are to be worn on the body rather than to be nailed to the doorpost – big and colorful statement necklaces with a container for the centerpiece. The containers are decorated with corals, quartz, wood, porcupine spikes – a variety of materials that men have used as protective talismans throughout history. Each mezuzah is empty, but you could put in there a traditional piece of parchment with the verses from the Torah, or pills, lipstick, a flash-drive with important information - in short, whatever you believe in the most these days. Sofia says that Shomrim represents a certain blurred concept of property in modern day society: My home is where I am. When so many of your possessions are virtual, digital and are kept in the cloud, you become your own doorpost to put a blessing on.

While traditional jewellery decorates, conceptual pieces of contemporary jewellery often act as symbols, statements and metaphors, sharing their artistic language with modern art and critical design. However, contemporary jewellery’s interpretation of Judaism manages not only to keep these two qualities, but to add a third: an actual function. While being aesthetically pleasing and symbolically charged, these objects can be used for everyday religious practice too – in an alternative way. They expand religious practice from the inside, without abandoning or rejecting the religion completely, like a golden crucifix with Mickey Mouse does. These objects question the existing status quo, but they also try to change it instead of destroying it, because they come from a place of love. The world is changing rapidly, and more and more often people are choosing to leave religion behind, to shake it off completely. These artists do not want to part with it, but they feel that if times are changing then religion must do so too – and they do what they can to help it along the way.
 

References      View / hide description

Tamar Paley. Arm piece: A Sign Upon Your Hand, 2017. Silver, string, printed parchment.. 9 x 8 x 50 cm. Photo by: Ya Studio. From series: A Fringe Of Her Own. Tamar Paley
Arm piece: A Sign Upon Your Hand, 2017
Silver, string, printed parchment.
9 x 8 x 50 cm
Photo by: Ya Studio
From series: A Fringe Of Her Own
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Tamar Paley. Neckpiece: Seven Blessings for a Woman, 2018. Silver, hand woven textile, thread, parchment.. Photo by: Ya Studio. From series: A Fringe of Her Own. Tamar Paley
Neckpiece: Seven Blessings for a Woman, 2018
Silver, hand woven textile, thread, parchment.
Photo by: Ya Studio
From series: A Fringe of Her Own
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Tamar Paley. Neckpiece: Tzitzit, 2017. German silver (alpaca), hand woven textile, thread.. From series: A Fringe of Her Own. Tamar Paley
Neckpiece: Tzitzit, 2017
German silver (alpaca), hand woven textile, thread.
From series: A Fringe of Her Own
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Tamar Paley. Neckpiece: Travelers Prayers, 2017. Hand woven textiles, thread, enamel, silver, printed parchment.. Photo by: Ya Studio. From series: A Fringe of Her Own. Tamar Paley
Neckpiece: Travelers Prayers, 2017
Hand woven textiles, thread, enamel, silver, printed parchment.
Photo by: Ya Studio
From series: A Fringe of Her Own
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Arik Weiss. Cup: Kiddush To Go. Sterling silver.. 9 x 7 cm. Arik Weiss
Cup: Kiddush To Go
Sterling silver.
9 x 7 cm
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Arik Weiss. Ring: Black Box #1. Blackened silver.. Arik Weiss
Ring: Black Box #1
Blackened silver.
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Arik Weiss. Object: The Other's Home, 2017. Arik Weiss
Object: The Other's Home, 2017
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Arik Weiss. Arm piece: Is There Also in White?, 2015. Arik Weiss
Arm piece: Is There Also in White?, 2015
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Arik Weiss. Ring: Isha Madlika. Silver, candles.. Isha Madlika is a play on words in Hebrew: it can both mean a great woman and woman lights up (the candles), refering to Jewish tradition when lighting up candles on Shabbat is a woman's responsibility.. Arik Weiss
Ring: Isha Madlika
Silver, candles.
Isha Madlika is a play on words in Hebrew: it can both mean a great woman and woman lights up (the candles), refering to Jewish tradition when lighting up candles on Shabbat is a woman's responsibility.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Sofia Zakharova. Neckpiece: Untitled (coral), 2018. Silver, coral, cord.. Photo by: Mooli Goldberg. From series: Shomrim. Sofia Zakharova
Neckpiece: Untitled (coral), 2018
Silver, coral, cord.
Photo by: Mooli Goldberg
From series: Shomrim
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Sofia Zakharova. Object: Untitled (wood), 2018. Silver, found wood.. Photo by: Mooli Goldberg. From series: Shomrim. On model.. Sofia Zakharova
Object: Untitled (wood), 2018
Silver, found wood.
Photo by: Mooli Goldberg
From series: Shomrim

On model.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Sofia Zakharova. Object: Untitled (wood), 2018. Silver, found wood.. Photo by: Mooli Goldberg. From series: Shomrim. Sofia Zakharova
Object: Untitled (wood), 2018
Silver, found wood.
Photo by: Mooli Goldberg
From series: Shomrim
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Sofia Zakharova. Object: Untitled (porcupine spines), 2018. Silver, porcupine spines.. Photo by: Mooli Goldberg. From series: Shomrim. Sofia Zakharova
Object: Untitled (porcupine spines), 2018
Silver, porcupine spines.
Photo by: Mooli Goldberg
From series: Shomrim
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
Sofia Zakharova. Object: Untitled (quartz), 2018. Silver, quartz.. Photo by: Mooli Goldberg. From series: Shomrim. Sofia Zakharova
Object: Untitled (quartz), 2018
Silver, quartz.
Photo by: Mooli Goldberg
From series: Shomrim
© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.
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