Chinese X Jewish cultures
Oz Haviv, my son, was born to a Chinese mother (that’s me) and an Israeli father; his mother was converted to Judaism before he was born. Oz’s family – even while in Hong Kong – maintains a Jewish household, and Oz is able to receive a formal Jewish education there.
Oz will soon turn thirteen – in November, 2014. To mark this important rite of passage, I have created an art work dedicated to his Bar Mitzvah. It is inspired by Parashat Toldot, the weekly portion of the Bible that Oz will read during the first Shabbat of his thirteenth year.
A Twist of Chinese and Jewish Culture As a Chinese Jewish woman, I am passionate about exploring the similarities and differences between these two traditional cultures. I am also passionate about blurring the boundaries between them.
I start with language. I compose new characters by writing Hebrew in the form of block letters, but in the style of Chinese calligraphy. As an aside, since learning the Bible is the essence of Jewish faith, doing this serves a dual purpose for me – art and Bible study.
There are 1432 Hebrew words in the Toldot. Even I am amazed that I have been able to turn all these words into block characters. Previously, I had transformed the Hebrew alphabet into Chinese radicals. So during the composition of the passages, the rules of both Chinese and Hebrew writing are adopted, that is, written from right to left, and/or up to down. To be sure, in order to maintain a high aesthetic, a great deal of practice is required!
Chinese Calligraphy I have adopted the “Buddhist Style” for this project. According to Between Heaven and Earth – the Power of Chinese Calligraphy: “As a result of long years of copying out the Buddhist canonical scriptures, many Buddhist monks became great masters of calligraphy. In a serene atmosphere, calm and far from the world outside, they applied themselves to their copying with body and soul, working to attain beauty and legibility in their writing, while at the same taking great care for the durability of their precious copies, which had to stand up to the ravages of time. This is why the Buddhist style is very aesthetic and exhibits strokes that are vigorous, distinct, and regular. This Buddhist style is extremely difficult to execute attractively. It is necessary to practice tirelessly for years in order to acquire an adequate technique.”
Media: Chinese Ink on Wooden Blocks These beechwood building blocks are classic educational toys for all toddlers and children, 50 x 30 x 9mm in dimension. I employed this particular medium to emphasize the importance of education throughout an individual’s life.
Coding of the Blocks As the Toldot passage consists of 1432 words, each individual block (word) is assigned a code to keep the text in order. These codes are also ideal for archiving purposes. The numbers can also be used to recording the names of those who put their thumb prints on the blocks.
Blessings to the Bar Mitzvah Boy – Red fingerprint
At the Bar Mitzvah, friends and family will be invited to put their fingerprint on the blocks to signify their blessing to the Bar Mitzvah Boy. Since each person has a unique fingerprint, so the blessing is for life. Of course, they also become both implicit and explicit participants of this art project.