Saturday, August 1, 2009

Together in division


I came to quiting via writing. Literally. It was only because I dropped down to a three day working week as a family lawyer for the first half of 2006, in order to write a book, that I had time to try my first quilt. So it has been interesting, but not surprising to me, that the quilts in my Twelve by Twelve collection have been inspired by stories. The first half of our two month production period involves me lying in bed or commuting whilst muttering word associations and trying to pull from the air The Story for the quilt.
This time I snuck up crablike on my story from a sideways perspective. Increasingly I have required my story to have a message or a moral or at the very least some kind of social point and to be about something I am interested in. My quilts will never be prize winning by virtue of the quality of their construction but they can, I hope, be uniquely interesting by saying something.
But Passion had me stumped for a good while. I don't consider myself to be a person who is passionate about very much. Intrigued, interested, enthused yes, but passionate? That takes an awful lot of energy. And yet I am very interested in people who are passionate about things, including those who practice orthodox or fundamental forms of religion. I am fascinated how their beliefs affect every aspect of their life. Particularly family life.
Once I set off on that theme, I recalled a tale I heard about the 9/11 Twin Towers attacks. In Jewish law it is vital for a woman to get a religious divorce ( a 'get') if she wishes to remarry within the structure of her faith. This has to be given voluntarily by her husband. In addition there is no presumption of death in Jewish law without a body being found. This explains why some of the last calls coming from the burning towers were not just to the families but to rabbis from Jewish men who had the prescience of mind, and the depth of faith in the face of the utmost horror, to pass on their consent to a get as their last gift to their wives.
This quilt is not about that story though. That story is in the developing quilt in my head which needs to be a whole lot bigger than 12 inches. But it got me thinking about the passion of those who were in the towers for their faith and the passion that those who hijacked those planes had for their own beliefs - whether one wants to categorise them as religious or political.
Still skirting around my quilt, I then recalled a sunny afternoon at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Dennis and I sat in a marquee and listened to Alan Kaufman, American Jew who served as an IDF soldier, talk about his books. Given that Dennis has a particular interest in Israeli politics I suggested we invite him for a coffee. At some point, I half jokingly suggested that as the politicians had not managed to solve the middle east crisis they should let a family lawyer have a go. We spend out lives negotiating disputes involving high emotions and hurts, entrenched views and conflicting needs and desires. If we can resolve how parents share the care of their beloved child, maybe we could help the Israeli's and Palestinians decide how to share the care of Jerusalem.
And that recollection gave birth to my quilt. The black 'sides' represent Israel and Palestine. I originally intended to use a map of Israel and the territories but even Stanfords did not produce a map with the right scale and colours for my vision. So, the map is of Jerusalem. The fact that the Temple Mount is on the Palestinian side is not a reflection of any political views but of the fact that I divided he map along pre-1967 borders when the city was partly under Israeli and partly under Arab control.
The red represents both passion and the bloodshed that passion has caused on both sides. The quilt is made of three layers of quilts, each, of course, being made of three layers. The layers can be compared to the layers of oral and written representations of history which run deep through this conflict. The embroidered and foiled Dome of the Mount and Western Wall unites the 'sides' and straddles the division.
Two useful techniques in resolving bitter divorces are, firstly, to assist the parties to focus on what is held in common rather than on the differences and secondly to help them see beyond their 'positions', and beyond perceived injustices in the past to what they hope that their positions will gain them for their future. It is my prayer for the children, women and men of both communities that they will develop these skills and that they will assist them, if not to regain what they believe is historically theirs, to create a new lagacy for the future that is peaceful and conflict free.

11 comments:

Terry said...

Helen, your work is always thought-provoking, always intriguing and this is no exception. I must say I think, in addition, it is your most visually stunning to date. The strong near symmetrical composition and the strength of the color and line create a tension that is passionate, indeed. Bravo! My favorite of all your pieces.

Kristin L said...

Passion for one's religion and point of view is big and powerful. I commend you for taking it on. I also think you've got a great idea in sending family lawyers to help Israel and Palestine sort themselves out! ;-) Thnak you for presenting us with yet another fascinating story.

Gerrie said...

Having been there and created my own versions of this story, I knew immediately what it was and the passion you were portraying. Yes, you are a writer. One of the best parts of your pieces, is the story you tell. I did not know about the git and find that story so fascinating. I agree with Terry, I think this is, visually, your best piece.

Deborah Boschert said...

So interesting and thought provoking. You have a great gift for graphic clear composition that is based on such complex thinking and ideas. Great job. I love that foiled section and the maps!

kirsty said...

I also agree that this is your best piece visually. It's stunning. And extraordinarily articulate. You are a writer and storyteller and you even create quilts that are storytellers.

Terri Stegmiller said...

I find the information about "get" interesting. And I, too, think that family dispute lawyers could do wonders for our world.

Brenda said...

I can't wait to see your Twin Towers work. In the meantime, you have created a striking passion piece with a thought-provoking backstory.

Diane said...

Helen, as each challenge reveal approaches, I always look forward to seeing everyone's quilts -- but I also especially look forward to the story I know your quilt will tell. Your ability to hone in on a topic that is laden with interest and emotion is truly remarkable (maybe a novel is next?!) AND then you find a vivid way to present your story in fabric. These are not common talents, and every time you wow me.

We are so lucky to have you in our group, because you always manage to connect our challenge to the world in a thoughtful and thought-provoking way.

Nikki said...

Once again you did it Helen! I absolutely love your contribution to the group every time. So much thought into every detail! Thank you for using each quilt as a way to open out eyes to a different social/political issue. You remind me to look past my crazy little world.

Karen said...

Helen, this beautifully illustrates a terrible problem in the world today. Your ideas are so well thought out and you convey them so wonderfully I always appreciate what you do.

Françoise said...

Beautiful quilt Helen. I also think this is my favourite of your quilts.