Parshat Pekudei

Chinese ink and acrylic on parchment, 2013

Artist: Davi Cheng,  USA

Clouds (雲)

The Four Great Classical Books (四大名著 ) in Chinese literature are highly regarded pre-modern Chinese novels – one of them, Journey to the West (西遊記) was published in 1592 during the Ming Dynasty. It is a Chinese adventure tale filled with spiritual insight towards individual enlightenment..

As I grew up in Hong Kong, Sūnwùkōng (孫悟空) was my superhero; with his magical transformations and immense amount of strength and skills, nothing could stop him. But what fascinated me the most was his ability to “ride” or “walk” the clouds. In one somersault, he’d be standing on a cloud traveling thousands of miles in seconds and return in a flash. The deities or divine beings in Chinese folktales quite often travel by clouds–curly patterned clouds like the ones depicted in my drawing.

Parshat Pekudei is filled with images and details of art objects which God commanded the Children of Israel to make. In this Torah portion, Moses, like a curator of a brand new gallery, makes his last inspections before the grand opening for the Holy One. He orders the accounting of the materials, wanting to know how much gold, silver and copper were given by the people for the making of the Mishkan (the God’s dwelling place in the desert). Moses wants to make sure everything was created to specifications: he checks the priestly garments with bells and pomegranates all around, the breastplate with gemstones, the blue, purple, crimson wool with gold thread in twisted fine linen, and the hammered works, the menorah, the Ark, the hangings and screen for the Mishkan. Moses carefully sets everything up accordingly, and when he finishes, “A cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled the Mishkan” [Pekudei 40:34]. In fact, as described in the Torah, Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because it was so filled with the glory of God.

In both of these stories, the clouds and what they represent were my inspiration for this piece. In contrast to the ornate, colorfully decorated ritual objects and the intricacy of the Mishkan, clouds are simple but complex. I wanted to capture the simplicity by using black Chinese ink and single strokes of the bamboo brushes, yet these clouds are in a complex formation of patterns and shapes. Clouds themselves have no colors but they do reflect whatever lights and surrounding colors are nearby. Thus, the reflection of the colors described in the Torah — blue, purple, crimson and gold —

can be seen on these clouds, painted with blue and crimson water colors and a hint of shimmering gold acrylic ink. For me the clouds filling the Mishkan in Parshat Pekudei represent the ruach, the spirit of God, as well as the ruach, the spirit, of the artists and the people Israel whose hearts moved them to give all they had to create a dwelling place for God.

About Davi

Hong Kong-born, Los Angeles-based Davi Cheng is an artist, musician / singer and past president of the world’s original GLBT synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), for which she designed and fabricated the stained-glass windows, ner tamid, and ark doors. Her art integrates Jewish themes in traditional Chinese aesthetic.

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