Artist: Nechama Golan, USA
A key theme in my artistic work is visual syntax that relates to the body of text in Judaism and the text of the body in art. Hebrew letters, words and sentences are all a central component of my art and serve as part of the visual language. Authoritative rabbinic texts, midrash, aggadah (legends), women’s poetry and even texts from lectures compile an additional layer of meaning in the creative process, inviting the memory of another time and place into the discourse about creating. The written word, a microcosm of Jewish culture, becomes an existential necessity in my visual art, subtly casting a doubt on the existence of material and form in and of itself. Incorporating texts from the Jewish sources within the visual image expresses a world planted both in the religious and the secular alike.
My part in the Women of the Book Project is based on the Torah portion of Emor (Levit. 21-24). The portion Emor deals with various aspects of the discussion about the importance of the relationship between sacredness and distance: taking precautions against impurity, the sacredness of man (all peoples), the sacredness of the Priest, the sacredness required by virtue of the presence of the Holy Creator within God’s people Israel.
The visual manifestation that I created for Emor includes text and image. The text is taken from the portion in which the cognate q-d-sh / קדש (sacredness) appears in hitqadshut / התקדשות, etc. The four chapters of the portion contain 52 occurrences of the various forms of this cognate. All of the words of holiness / קדושה are imprinted on the right half of the parchment. Printed on the left half of the parchment is a computer-processed photograph of a priestess figure, holding (descendents of the great Priest from the time of the Temple) when giving the priestly blessing. The use of the image of a woman in the priestly role expresses the possibility of gender equality for women who are not permitted this role in traditional Jewish practice though they are also descendents of the Cohen/Kohanim clan. Using digital manipulation to create the composition, the horizontal symmetry of the priestess figure is mirrored, replicating the figure of the Queen in a deck of cards. Mirroring of the figure symbolizes holiness in the Heavens and on Earth, as in the verse “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy / אֱלֹהֵיכֶםׁ יְהוָה אֲנִי קָדוֹש כִּי תִּהְיו ּקְדֹשִׁים” (Leviticus 19:2). Lastly, gold-thread embroidery completes the work of art binding contemporary digital artistic creation to the traditional art of embroidery associated with women – women creating in textiles and men through many forms: qadosh / קדוש, qedoshim / קדושים, qedushah / קדושה, her palms forward in the manner of the universal practice of the kohanim
Nechama Golan was born in Israel in 1947. She studied art at the Avni Institute and art therapy at Lesley University. In 1996 she began her studies in philosophy at Bar Ilan University. The focus of her work is the tension between traditional Judaism and feminism. Nechama has exhibited widely in group and solo shows throughout Israel and abroad. She lives and works in Bnei Brak, Israel.