FEMALE WATERS

October 10th - November 28th 2019

 Wolfson Museum of Jewish Art 

The Jerusalem Biennale

1/6

Reception and Gallery Talk

1/15

Female Waters - Wall Text 

Rachel Verliebter

 

The exhibition Female Waters showcases Chani Cohen Zada’s figurative works that are based on traditional oil painting techniques. The paintings tell the stories of biblical female figures through the interpretive lens of Midrashic and Kabbalistic writings. Revealing the mysteries that lie hidden in the unique feminine power of these heroines, the source of inspiration for the present exhibition is in Jewish mysticism’s conception of the physical and metaphysical as one reality wherein the masculine and feminine aspects are complementing each other. 

In Kabbalah the two modes of the Divine service are called the “masculine waters” and the “feminine waters”. Whereas the masculine waters represent the flow of the Divine benevolence from above downward, the feminine ones represent the elevation from below seeking to ascend and be absorbed above. Resultingly, the relationship between God and humanity is often viewed as the meeting of these two streams. 

The works visualize narratives of women whose acts, albeit antinomian and against the mainstream, function as female waters (mayim nukvin) connecting between above and below, between heaven and earth. The images reflect the power of creation flowing through the feminine life forces that are like birth fluids. The unique forces connecting the messianic mother figures such as Rachel, Lea, Tamar, Miriam, Ruth, Nitzevet, Esther in guise of the hind of dawn, Yalta as well as the female figure collecting sparks out of the dark, are portrayed in their actions for the sake of the Divine will to be a vessel channeling God’s manifestation in this world. Alongside the rain pouring down from heaven, symbolizing the male attitude to the commandments, their approach is an autonomous one whose source is not obedience but love. By means of their feminine wisdom coming from elsewhere, from the water’s depths, these female figures choose to awaken, soften and mend the world through a vision of messianic history by virtue of their stories.

Nitzevet and Son

Firmament

Write Me Down for Future Generations

A Sign for Eternity

A Cup of Blessing

Let Thine Eyes Be on the Field

Carried Like An Infant

Until Water Was Poured Upon Them

Her Bounties were Extensive

Crossroads

Afterbirth

Sparks

Line to line

Spring Up O Well

Bundle of Life

As Yet Exalted Thyself

The Place

I Will Cover Thee With My Hand

Upside Down

Female Waters

 Essay by : Rachel Verliebter, curator

 

Thou has counted my wanderings; put Thou my tears into Thy bottle; are they not in Thy book?

Psalms 56:9

Female Waters showcases figurative works by Chani Cohen Zada that are based on traditional oil painting techniques. The paintings tell the stories of biblical female figures through the interpretive lens of Midrashic and Kabbalistic writings. Revealing the mysteries that lie hidden in the unique feminine power of these heroines, the source of inspiration for the present exhibition is in Jewish mysticism’s conception of the physical and metaphysical as one reality wherein the masculine and feminine aspects are complementing each other.

In Kabbalah the two modes of the Divine service are called the “masculine waters” and the “feminine waters”. Whereas the masculine waters represent the flow of the Divine benevolence from above downward, the feminine ones represent the elevation from below that seeks to ascend and be received above. Resultingly, the relationship between God and humanity is often viewed as the meeting of these two streams.

The works visualize narratives of women whose acts, albeit antinomian and against the mainstream, function as female waters (mayim nukvin) connecting between above and below, between heaven and earth. The images reflect the power of creativity flowing through the feminine fluids that are full of life force, birthing creation.

Spring Up O Well (2018) features the motive of the water source that accompanied the people of Israel during their wanderings in the wilderness: Against a backdrop of pipes pumping up abundance in a hydraulic factory between the lower and the upper world, a woman rests on the tap of a pipeline supplying underground waters from the depths of the earth. The painting shows a well from which the waters quell and rise, defying the Law of Gravitation, “a well of living waters” alluding to Miriam’s miraculous movable well[1] that symbolizes the presence of the Shekhinah, the feminine Divine, since the destruction of the Temple: “Wheresoever the Israelites went in exile the Shekinah accompanied them”. [2]

Afterbirth (2018) relocates the dwellings of the Shekhinah to the outskirts[3], be it a ruin, a well, a field or a grave. The outlines of the painting indicate how the feminine Divine becomes an extraterritorial center: a maternal rocking chair stands on the verge of the gaping abyss. At the foot of the mountain, out of the greyish-blue hues suggesting clouds or waves, emerges Rachel’s tomb hovering over the underground waters that rise to beget redemption. The painting manifests the feminine force of the Shekhinah keeping her children from the abyss. The allusion to Rachel, the weeping mother redeeming her children through her tears[4], reveals another aspect of the messianic myth in Judaism as Gershom Scholem writes: “For the Messianic idea is not only consolation and hope. Every attempt to realize it tears open the abysses which lead each of its manifestations ad absurdum.”[5]

Crossroads (2018) deals with the fate of Tamar, who disguised herself as a prostitute to give birth to Perez by seducing Yehuda, the father of her deceased husband, so determined was she to have a child by that bloodline, since Judah had not kept his promise to give her to his son Shelah. The painting depicts the wooden altar where Tamar was meant to be sacrificed: Judah ordered that she be burnt to death[6]. The crib mobile figurines, characters from the Winnie the Pooh, hover over the altar and allude to the pending precarious fate of Tamar’s messianic child Perez, who is identified in the book of Ruth as the ancestor of King David. If not for Tamar’s ruse, he would not have been born, as the Zohar states: “From the hutzpah (brazenness) of the righteous woman Tamar, many blessings came into this world.”[7]

A visualization of the correlation between death and birth, Line by Line (2018) hints at the pact between an expectant mother and the unknown, and the risk to her life and the life she carries inside her: A prayer shawl envelops the figure of a not yet-visible baby. From the vacant space emerges an umbilical cord in the form of a purple tie that elevates heavenwards in prayer. This hope in the existence of something that is not yet there reflects the unique belief of a mother, endowed with the faculty of completing God’s creation.

The work  Let Thine Eyes be on the Field (2019 expresses the feminine acts of grace that converge  in the all-encompassing soul of the Messiah: A face appears through a prayer shawl, which serves  as a screen that reveals at the same time as it conceals the figure, alluding to King David’s grandmother Ruth in her ability to comprehend that which lays beyond the purely material: It takes a benevolent eye to see that which is yet to be born.

Further developing this idea, Nitzevet with Child (2015) invites the viewer to contemplate the birth of redemption from the point of view of the woman delivering it. The painting features David’s mother Nitzevet nursing her infant while facing a ferocious snake that alludes to the dark side of the Messiah, the sins of lust that characterize the House of David. Commenting on Psalm 51:7  “Behold I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” the Yalkut Hamakhiri[8], an anthology of aggadic midrashim, describes Nitzevet bat Adael as the mother of the King Messiah who was born as a result of a problematic relationship between Jesse, his wife and his handmaid. Estranged from his wife, Jesse lusts after his handmaid. However the latter, instead of quietly submitting to her master’s wishes, promptly informs her mistress Nitzevet. In a plot echoing Rachel and Leah’s deceit, the beloved and the hated wife conspire to get the ‘proper’ woman into Jesse’s bed. By the merit of her bold determination, Nitzevet gives birth to David and thus justifies the actions of all the mothers of the Davidic dynasty.

The works displayed in Female Waters present the viewers with the individual and connecting forces between the messianic mother figures: Rachel, Lea, Tamar, Miriam, Ruth, Nitzevet, Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, Esther the hind of dawn, Yalta, as well as the female figure collecting sparks out of the dark, are portrayed in their actions for the sake of the Divine will channeling God’s manifestation in this world. Alongside the rain from heaven, symbolizing the male attitude to the commandments, the women display an autonomous outlook that result whose source is not obedience but love.  By means of their feminine wisdom, derived from other sources, from the water’s depths, the subjects in the paintings symbolize the choice to awaken, soften and mend the world through a vision of messianic history stemming from their own stories.  

© Rachel Verliebter

 

 

 

[1] Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 9a

[2] Babylonian Talmud, Megillah 29a

[3] Haviva Pedaya, Walking Through Trauma: Rituals of Movement in Jewish Myth, Mysticism and History, Tel Aviv: Resling 2011, p.126

[4] Jeremiah 31, 14-16: Thus said the Lord: A cry is heard in Ramah - wailing, bitter weeping – Rachel weeping for her children. She refuses to be comforted for her children, who are gone. Thus said the Lord: Restrain your voice from weeping, your eyes from shedding tears; for there is a reward for your labor – declares the Lord: They shall return from the enemy’s land. And there is hope for your future – declares the Lord: Your children shall return to their country.

[5] Gershom Scholem, The Messianic Idea in Judaism and other Essays on Jewish Spirituality, New York: Schocken 1971, p.35

[6] Genesis 38,24

[7] Zohar 3: 71b

[8] Yalkut Hamkhiri, Psalm 118

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