Taken from A Patchwork Life: The Hands-On Guide To Living by Louise Silk
Available as an ebook: A Patchwork Life: The Hands-On Guide To Living
When I proposed this exhibition to the JCC on September 21,1992, I had two goals. I wanted to explore the interactive quality of art quilts, my artistic medium for over 20 years. Also, I wanted to learn enough about being Jewish to portray it visually. My larger objective was to combine my vocation as a quiltmaker with my avocation as an active member of the Jewish community. Louise Silk; Artist Statement; Feb. 2, 1994
While my parents had little interest in religion, I was attracted. I enrolled in the afterschool program at the College of Jewish Studies and took a high school English elective on the Hebrew Bible as literature. My father often told me that I would make a good Rebbitzin (Rabbi’s wife). Along with the thinking of the times, the idea of a girl becoming a Rabbi was beyond our grasp.
Years later, a synchronicity of events began with the opportunity for an adult Bat Mitzvah. I joined a group of women at my childhood synagogue learning to chant torah and haftorah and stood before the congregation as a religious adult. Having no understanding of Jewish practice (like how the calendar revolved around the moon or why people stood during a service), learning as an adult allowed for critical thinking and understanding that heightened the religion’s meaning for me.
Building on my knowledge base as an adult Bat Mitzvah, taking advantage of the large window I had to prepare an exhibition, I created a curriculum of books, classes, and private study all with the goal of building a body of quilts about being Jewish.
Some pieces developed easily: Six Days We Create, a quilted microcosm of the active involvement of humans in creation, was a book where the viewer could co-create by turning the pages. With Knowledge, Comes Faith, a stamped collection of truisms was a satisfying way to catalog all of the revealed noteworthy facts that I found enlightening or stuck a cord of agreement with me.
Others were particularly challenging: For The Prayer Project, I wanted to create an organized aesthetic experience for the viewer to participate in group prayer, as compared to the haphazard way it occurs at the Western Wall. For Bring About Olam Ha Ba–The World To Come, I wanted a view of a perfected world where each individual could agree to participate by taking a ribbon stamped: I join in our task to create WORLD PERFECTION.
On a trip to Israel, I met an orthodox rabbi who challenged me to search for the things in the religion that worked for me, rather than criticize all that I found unpalatable. In doing that, I agreed to study with him.
It was frustrating. He would explain an orthodox practice. I left uncertain and scrutinized what I had heard, uncovering some fallacy, mostly based on a negating view of women. I returned with a challenge. He would suggest additional justifications that continued to make no sense.
I became so angry with this orthodox view of women that I thought about making an artistic statement by erecting a mechitzah, the partition that separates women from men in the synagogue, in the gallery and throwing blood on it.
This action being unrealistic, I labored my way through to something positive: Men create a separation to exclude women. I will create my own separation to exclude men. Women have a spiritual nature that is legitimate and respected. I will make a space for women to explore their true spiritual nature. I will make a tent, an enclosed space for women that excludes men.
I purchased a support structure. I designed the outside with visual images of women’s souls. The inside was a serene quilted landscape, with music, pillows, and writing materials. It took the entire summer to complete the construction, all the while, releasing my anger into the foot pedal of my sewing machine.
Further into my study, I saw an ad in our Jewish newspaper for the formation of a women’s Rosh Hodesh group. Rosh Hodesh is the celebration of the new moon, traditionally a woman’s holiday. Each month, thereafter, I joined feminist contemporaries for Hebrew celebrations of the new moon. We created rituals, studied innovative interpretations of texts, expanded holiday applications and developed Jewish meditative practices.
One of the participants was a young female Rabbi. To decide on a meaningful opening, beyond wine and cheese, I consulted with her. She listened to my process and told me it sounded like I was trying to find my voice. There was a term in Judaism, Kol Isha– women’s voice. It was mostly a negative term. Men should not hear women speak for fear it might incite them sexually.
My assignment was to make Kol Isha positive. Starting with the Hebrew Bible and going through herstory, I located statements spoken by Jewish women. I asked 36 women, the number of righteous individuals on earth at any time, to participate. Each read a different woman’s words standing in the gallery at a pre-designated place so that their bodies formed the letters representing the word VOICE. I became the dot on the I, my mid-life point. Being 43 at the time, content to live until 86, I titled it my Mid-life Ritual.