Thursday, 28 October 2021

Yishai's Bar Mitzvah Album

My customer saw the album I made for Nili's Bat Mitzvah and asked me to make one for her own son's Bar Mitzvah party. She told me that her son, Yishai, loves swimming, dinosaurs, dragons, LEGO and watching movies. She also sent a copy of his Bar Mitzvah invitation, so that I could see the colour scheme they were using, along with photos from Yishai's Hanachat Tefillin ceremony at the Kotel, or Western Wall. This is the ceremony when the almost 13-year-old boy lays tefillin (phylacteries) for the first time in advance of his Bar Mitzvah.
My customer asked me to base the cover design of Yishai's album on the photos taken at the Kotel. I have shown Yishai with the stones of HaKotel HaMa'aravi, or Western Wall, in the background. The Western Wall, or "Wailing Wall", is the most religious site in the world for the Jewish people. Located in the Old City of Jerusalem, this ancient limestone wall is the western support wall of the Temple Mount. King Herod built this wall in 20 BCE during an expansion of the Second Temple. When the Romans destroyed the temple in 70 CE, the support wall survived.
In normal times, when there isn't a pandemic going on, thousands of people journey to the wall to visit and recite prayers there. These prayers are either spoken or written down and placed in the cracks of the wall. The wall is split into two sections, one area for males and the other for females.
Yishai is wearing his new blue and white tallit and tefillin. The tallit is a garment Jewish men wear during prayer. Some boys begin wearing the tallit from the age of Bar Mitzvah, while others wait till after their wedding. Tallit is an Aramaic word from the root tll / טלל meaning 'to cover over'. By wrapping yourself in the tallit, or by covering your head with it, it is believed that the intention and direction of your prayers can be enhanced. The tallit often has black or blue stripes. This is thought to be because that was the fashion in Greece and Rome in the Biblical period. It does not in fact have to be striped and can be plain white.
The tefillin (sometimes called phylacteries) are cubic black leather boxes with leather straps that Jewish men wear on their head and their arm during weekday morning prayer. Jewish men start wearing tefillin just before their Bar Mitzvah.
I also decorated five pages inside Yishai's album. Mum told me that he is fascinated with dragons but that they shouldn't be too cute! I created a rather scary looking green one with a shiny gold tail in the colours of Yishai's Bar Mitzvah invitation. Next I cut out a tiny tub of popcorn and a paper cup of Coke, since eating popcorn and drinking Coke is the standard activity while watching movies! I added a couple of little movie tickets too. On the next page I showed Yishai swimming and followed that with a dark green dinosaur, another of his favourite things. Finally, I cut out some tiny LEGO pieces in various shades of green and gold. 
The front of the album simply says Yishai's Barmitzvah and the month of his celebration. As is the case with many of the albums I have created recently, Yishai's mum decided to leave the date off the cover just in case the party had to be postponed because of Covid-19. As far as I know, all went well and nothing was delayed!

Monday, 25 October 2021

Half a Grapefruit for Dinner

Saba and Safta (the Hebrew names for grandfather and grandmother respectively) eat half a grapefruit each before their meals. It was Saba's birthday and his children asked me to make him a special card showing them at the Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner table, eating their grapefruit halves!
Safta is left-handed so I showed her on the right, with a grapefruit spoon in her left hand. Saba is on the left so that they won't elbow each other when eating! They are seated at the Shabbat table. It is covered with a white tablecloth, a custom which began in the Middle Ages when wealthy homes began using ornate white tablecloths for festive meals. Two challot and two candlesticks are also on the table. The two loaves are placed on the table to reference the Jewish teaching that a double portion of manna fell from heaven on Friday to last through the Shabbat.
The two candles are lit in honour of Shabbat and in some homes, including my own, an additional candle is lit for each child. The lighting of Shabbat candles has a dual purpose: To "honour Shabbat" (כבוד שבת) and create shalom bayit or domestic peace (שלום בית).
Both Saba and Safta loved the card.
Another customer contacted me with a request for an 80th birthday card for her dad. "It would be great if you could have him wearing a blue button down shirt and khaki pants" she wrote to me. She also wanted an 80 on the card. She mentioned that her dad is a retired maths professor. I suggested adding a few maths symbols in the background and she liked that idea too.
I showed dad in the requested outfit. He is holding the number 80 in one hand, whilst the maths symbols are dotted all around him. My customer reported back that dad liked the card!
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Friday, 22 October 2021

Zadok Ben-David: People I Saw but Never Met

I first discovered the work of the Israeli born and London based artist Zadok Ben-David 10 years ago when I stumbled across an exhibition of his work, including the installation 'Blackfield', at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. The installation consisted of thousands of steel etched flowers standing on a bed of sand. The flowers were black on one side, colourful on the other side. Memories of it stayed with me for many years and I have followed Ben-David's work ever since. I was excited when I read that there was to be a new installation at the museum this year, 'People I Saw but Never Met', and made sure to get there at the earliest opportunity.
'People I Saw but Never Met' includes thousands of figures of men, women and children. These are people that Zadok Ben-David has seen during his travels around the world over the last five years - in a market in Kazakhstan, on the streets of Tokyo, near his studio in London, on a beach in Tel Aviv, even in Antarctica - but has never met personally. Something in their presence - a facial expression, or a momentary gesture - caught his eye and made him take their photograph. He then sketched these photographs with pencil and later, by using photo-etching, he turned the sketches into a thin metal cut-out painted in black. 
Ben-David began working on the installation in 2015, adding more and more figures with each passing month. This ongoing body of work, first exhibited in 2016 in Sydney, Australia, now comprises over 6,000 metal figures, some small-scale, no taller than a foot, and others larger in size, not quite waist-tall. The larger pieces are cut from aluminium by hand. The miniatures are made from stainless steel. In the installation, each figure stands vertically attached to a small base hidden under a bed of light-coloured sand, carefully arranged en-mass on the floor of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art's expansive gallery space.
While some families and groupings are depicted, for the most part Ben-David presents isolated individuals. Many appear to be walking or captured standing still, while others are playing or riding a bike. People stroll, take selfies, crouch to tie a shoelace, check their cellphones, hurry on, search inside a purse or set a backpack on the ground for a rest. A woman in a kimono uses an open fan to shield her head from the sun. A boy rides a bicycle, a man looks at an open book.
The thin metal figures are open and you can see through them, allowing for a lot of light. They represent many different nations, cultures and religions. You can identify them only by clothes and sometimes facial features.
Though 'Blackfield' was a very colourful installation, Ben-David has kept 'People I Saw but Never Met' all in black. He wanted to avoid colours, so as not to focus on the surface of the figures. He also wanted to get a feeling of the moment with his figures. People were not aware when he was taking their photos. When he clicked the button, he made sure to turn his head away so that they were not posing.
The results are incredible. Ben-David creates movement and gives life to his "people". The thousands of figures assembled together suggest that we are both isolated yet always close together. I sat on the floor of the museum's gallery space for a long, long time, studying and enjoying each piece. It was a brilliant installation.