Artist: Barbara Mendes, USA
I have painted three huge Biblical Murals-on-canvas since becoming a Balah Teshuvah—returnee to religious life—as an older adult. The most recent of these works, the “Vayikra Mural,” illuminates the 859 verses in the Book of Leviticus. Feeling fortunate to have regained my Heritage, and grateful for the closeness to the Creator of the Universe at the heart of Judaism, I’ve been surprised to discover how Judaism focuses on the interface between the Divine and the human male while ignoring the female half of the divine, which is clearly visible in nature. I’ve found this fragmentation to be ridiculous.
Parsha Kedoshim teaches, in the Hebrew banner of my Klaf: “Be Holy because Holy Am I, Hashem, your G*d.” Underneath, an iconic Female figure symbolizes the Shekhinah- the Presence of G*d. Her dress contains a landscape in which are scenes of Holy activities, but which ends in a steep cliff, off of which fall those committing unholy actions. The sun shines in Shekhinah’s chest; her shawl contains the night sky.
In my version, characters express feminine qualities of generosity and kindness. Instead of fulfilling the directive of refraining from making life hard for the handicapped, characters lend others a helping hand. Instead of merely leaving produce in the corners of the field for the stranger and the poor, a family offers them a nurturing meal. I include scenes of an imagined joyous and holy life, where I dance in a meadow with my two daughters and granddaughter. My eldest daughter, back from the grave, jumps out of her wheelchair to dance.
My younger one leads her adoring fourth grade class in dance. My granddaughter whirls in interpretive ballet. My son-in-law jams on guitar along with African drummers and women on guitar. Another fantasy scene features a table under the trees, where women expound Torah, as others listen and take notes. Falling off the edge are those without a place in the Holy landscape. There is the Rabbi who pretends to serve Hashem while worshipping Money, the man who grabs a woman against her will, the thief who steals a necklace, and the old man grabbing a young female relative.
The color-saturated Mandala, which surrounds all the images in the klaf, symbolizes the unseeable, unspeakable mystic power of a non-corporeal, not-only-masculine, Holy G*d. I don’t believe that the male vessels of Divine communication knew all the ways to be Holy, and I believe that the female vehicles of Divine communication have simply been ignored and silenced throughout the course of human history.
Barbara Mendes studied art in NYC. She laterpublished work in Underground Comix under the name, Willy Mendes. Her brilliantly colored narrative paintings, epic in detail and scale, have been exhibited in the U.S. and Israel. Her Biblical murals are permanently displayed in Jerusalem and Florida. www.BarbaraMendes.org