Tuesday, 16 November 2010

getting ready

the armoury project has met with certain pitfalls. Between the three of us, we have had death, divorce, miscarriage, and illness to deal with. It's been a bit of a summer. But we've got on with it and now the end is in sight, and despite everything we've individually gone through, we've managed to produce something...

Unazia Karim's beautiful handwritten amulet prayers to be placed on the amulet shirt made by Victoria Burgher

my embroidery on the amulet shirt - using one of Unazia's designs

hand-knitted silver wire, chainmail in my piece

the finished artwork will be installed next monday for the 3 Faith Forum's exhibition for Interfaith Week Event

Thursday, 12 August 2010


We, (Victoria Burgher, Unaiza Karim & I) won a grant from the 3 Faiths Form to work on a collaborative art project together. And so, been giving funding by a group to harness relationships between religious groups, we decided to build ourselves some armour.... beginning by drawing in the splendid Wallace Collection. But amongst the well-crafted tools for violence and killing, and magnificent yet threatening armour, there was one thing that we found particularly horrific. It was a quote from James Mann, who in 1937, after seeing the death and devastation in the Spanish Civil War, campaigned to save Spain's art and armour from destruction.
He wrote "Human life can be replaced by a comparatively simple process, but the great works of art which have come down to us from the past are irreplaceable."

I'm not sure if it is because the 3 of us are mothers that we found this statement so shocking. The diminishing of the value of individual human life struck us as antithetical to our religious moral sense and outlook on life. That he said it in 1937 after witnessing the trauma, and widespread loss of life in Spain is, in a twisted way, understandable. But the Wallace Collection, in the year 2000, chose that quote to display with with armour he saved, in a praiseworthy manner.

and so we began - talking and drawing the contrast between the violent forms and the delicate surface decoration. The uses of different materials - chainmail, leather, metal plate. and discussing that women today still face various affronts to their basic human dignity, the individual's right to self-determination and autonomy.

it promises to be a fascinating project. I am now investigating chainmail.... (and I thought paper-cutting was meticulous finger breaking work)

Monday, 9 August 2010

new website

thanks to a very helpful tip from Rachel Mars - I now have a new website.
I will still be using this blog to put up and show any work in progress.

if you have any comments, criticisms, feedback or helpful thoughts about the new site - please let me know.

thank you

Friday, 11 June 2010

maybe this month

(scroll down to earlier posts for the paper-cuts)

this is a new piece - just finished. it is white on white embroidery on niddah examination cloths, that are sewn together with red thread. Each square is embroidered with the text 'maybe this month'

(click on image to enlarge)

there are 15 squares to correspond to the 15 examinations that a woman does to herself in the week leading up to going to the mikveh.

Saturday, 8 May 2010


(click on image to enlarge)

R Yohanan says: We learn fear of sin from a maiden (betullah). He heard of a maiden who would prostrate herself saying "Master of the World! You created Gan Eden and Gehinnom (hell), the righteous and the wicked. May it Be Your Will that I not cause men to sin."

for years I toed the line. believed in the reciprocal community arrangement of mitzvot. we are all responsible for each other and we all help each other fulfil what they need to fulfil. the laws of tznuit (modesty) are there because we do not live as isolated selves but we are connected to and affect others around us. So women have been covering up in order to help men have a more spiritual life... but what do we get in return? is there any support from the men to our spirituality?

The discussion about modest dress normally begins with a worthy line about keeping the female body beautiful and special - the king's daughter's beauty is within, but ends with shame and disgrace. judging women and their bodies and labelling, not as beautiful or special, but vessels for sin and temptation to sinful behaviour. walking talking yetzer horas (evil inclination). Making women ashamed not celebratory of their bodies, their curves, their sexual selves.

Like an alcoholic blaming the bottle of wine for their own inability to only have 1 or 2 glasses, the men blame the women for tempting them, for their lack of control.

going back to the quote, the maiden (the hebrew is betullah, a virgin) this sexually inexperienced young girl is praying to God because she is afraid of sin. but whose sin is it? Not hers, but the men who may be aroused by her body. Her body who the 'Master' created.

This is a story that men tell themselves about women. It allows men to abdicate their sexual responsibility as they tell themselves that women have taken this role on. It sexualises young women, and puts their bodies in a context of shame and disgrace.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

food and sex

'a woman prefers her husband to be a donkey driver, at home every shabbat to satisfy her sexually, even though he only earns 1 kab of wheat, rather than a distant camel driver who has sex once in 30 days, even though he earns 9 kabim' Ketubot 61a

women prefer regular sex to a higher standard of living... those, silly impractical women. (click on image to enlarge)

I have incorporated food associated with sex and fertility, including some from the traditional 7 species (I am a traditionalist at heart) - figs, pomegranates, grapes and of course wheat in the lacework, all of which is dripping with honey...

Monday, 1 March 2010

the ladies guild collection

this is the ladies guild collection, story so far... there is more to come.

these paper-cuts combine rabbinic misogyny with sexualised images of women in the form of a doily. the doily is an out-date, fussy, item used in food presentation - because it simply would not do to have a piece of cake or biscuit displayed in direct contact with a naked plate. The Ladies Guild is a the name for the women's group in traditional orthodox synagogues in Anglo-Jewry, whose main function is to prepare the refreshments.

they will be shown at the JOFA (Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance) conference next week. this week's task is to make a postcard. but which one?

the ladies guild collection (cont'd)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

welcome to my nonsense

"...the mind of most women is not disposed to study, and they will turn the words of Torah into words of nonsense due to their limited understanding" Rambam Hilchot Talmud Torah 1:13

this quote is from Rambam's laws about Torah study, where he states that as women are not obligated to study torah they receive less reward for their efforts. However, why bother. Since women won't understand it anyway and will just turn it into nonsense.... or paper-cuts... (click on image to enlarge)

since the tone of this infantilises women, I have depicted them as school-girls. some studious...

and some just vacant and confused... (in a St. Trinians style)

picking up on the nonsense theme, there are various quotes from Alice in Wonderland dotted about

close up of the lettering, showing the english and hebrew handwriting

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Pride and Prejudice: Women and Tallit

(the context of this paper-cut is the recent arrest of a woman wearing a tallit at the kotel)

Rav Ovadiah Yosef has been quoted as saying "they should be wrapped in a tallit and buried" - hence the shroud in the bottom

the quote from the Rema seems to be one of the main objections to women wearing a tallit. it is permitted, with a bracha, but then disallowed due to yohora - religious arrogance. So I have included various haughty women who are grooming themselves.

and a dominatrix

and in the background of the lacework, there are tangled tzitzit. which I will never ever do again as a paper-cut.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Lechery! Adulteress!

this mishnah is discussing the ritual for women whose husband suspects them of being unfaithful. The woman has to go through a fairly shameful public procedure, culminating in drinking some bitter waters. If she is guilty of adultery then she dies, in a spectacular fashion. But there is a twist. if she has any Torah knowledge to her credit then it doesn't work. There is an opinion (Ben Azzai) in this mishnah (not quoted in this paper-cut) that women should therefore be taught Torah. However, along comes Rabbi Eliezer who says no. If women learn Torah then they will know that this won't work and therefore they will be at it like rabbits with anyone who comes along, as they know that they can get away with it. The hebrew is 'tiflut' which is sometimes translated as 'foolishness' or the sexually laden term 'whoreishness.' I like the finger waving tone of LECHERY. Unfortunately for the development of women's education in Jewish history Rabbi Eliezer's opinion became the influential voice. Because you can't trust women with Torah, when all they want is sex...

the lacework is moving away from the cheeky pin-ups of the previous paper-cuts. here you will find shamed women, a fist about to cast the first stone, lipstick on collar, blind-folded women, and of course, nothing says 'adultery' like a motel sign

as I have combined both the original hebrew and the english translation, I have slanted my english handwriting to match the hebrew script. makes it slightly less readable, but visually coherent.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

talking to women will send you to hell

The full text of this mishna is "Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem used to say: Let your house be open wide, let the poor join the members of your household, and do not converse much with women. This was said about one's wife, all the more so does it apply to another man's wife. Hence the sages say: a man who talks too much with women brings trouble upon himself, neglects the study of Torah, and in the end will inherit Gehinnom (hell)." (Pirkei Avot 1:5)
what starts as a positive directive to care for the vulnerable members of society ends in a concern for too much social interaction with one's wife. And other men's property, sorry, other men's wives.
it is often translated (by squirmy apologetics) as "do not gossip with women" as that would be degrading to them. except the hebrew is 'si'cha' which is a conversation.

whispering women - sexually alluring, or gossiping. either one is an activity that distracts those poor men.

amongst the lacework there are 'branks' - english 16th century punishment devices used for women who were accused of gossiping, and other misdemeanors that bring shame on their menfolk.

silencing women

Thursday, 28 January 2010

sometimes it is hard to be a woman

ahh yes, the morning bracha - Blessed are You God for not making me a woman... doesn't matter how you spin it, there is no escaping the blatant misogyny of this bracha. The lacework of this doily contains chains, childbirth, frustrated housewife. And a breast cancer cell and a uterus. Because at the end of the day, it is hard to be a woman and perhaps men should appreciate this. click on the image to enlarge.

the lace also contains these 2 figures, with angel wings. because women are on a higher spiritual plane... of course we are. (and that's why we sit higher up in the ladies gallery, closer to heaven...)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

wine, women and beasts

the context of this wonderful observation of drunk women's rampant sexual appetite is a discussion in the talmud about how much provision for wine should be stipulated in a woman's ketubah.

4 cups of wine eh ladies is what it takes to really get us going... as my mother asked: what about seder night? (where we are obligated to drink 4 cups, women too). gives chad gadyah a whole different reading.

the lacework is quite detailed, containing drunk women, horses, as well as sexually provocative women. And four glasses of wine. For a sense of scale, I've photographed this on my cutting mat which has a grid of 1cm squares. (the overall dimensions of the doilie are 35cm x 27cm).