Art d’var: Commentary on the Torah through a related work of art. Just as the Torah is a framework for Jewish life that must be unpacked and studied from many angles to understand the depth of its content and its applicability to our own lives, so too is great art. This series illuminates works of art that help modernize the ancient Torah text.
26th Weekly Torah Portion
4,670 Hebrew letters
1,238 Hebrew words
Sheminiwhich means “eight” in Hebrew, is the part of the Torah where God instructs Moses and his brother, Aaron, on the rules of kashrut through the famous line, “Every animal that has real hooves, with clefts in the hooves, and chews the cud, you shall eat” (Leviticus 11:3).
This line fascinates me because it is generally known even by the “less religious” of the Jewish people. Kashrut is a pervasive symbol of Jewish life, and rightly so because food and diet impacts everything.
And even if I choose not to keep kosher in my own practice, these rules of kashrut remind me of the value of the life of the animals that feed me.
When I think of a visual representation of the value we place on the life of the animals we eat, I immediately think of the work of the Israeli-born Argentinian artist Tamara Kostyanovski.
I first encountered Tamara’s work in a small, crisp white gallery at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, a relatively unlikely place to find innovative Israeli work. I was immediately mesmerized by the striking life-size quilted fabric recreations of sinewy red slices of meat hanging from the walls and ceiling of the gallery, slowly spinning to showcase the intricately detailed 3D elements.
In this series called “Tropical Slaughterhouse”, Tamara takes you to her butcher shop with brightly colored meat carcasses. From afar, you’d swear you were looking in the windows of a real butcher, but as you get closer to the work, you see colors and textures that transform those sliced pieces of meat into elaborate, sacred works of art. and beautiful, created from recycled fabric. .
Tamara’s focus on meat and the importance of recycled materials in her work is heavily inspired by her childhood in Argentina, where the meat industry is famous. She also draws inspiration from her native Israel, acknowledging that most of the meat in Israel is kosher and has been slaughtered and treated so specifically.
In her artist statement, Tamara says, “The discovery of a world hidden behind the skin took shape in my teens as I worked in a surgeon’s office, where veins exploded in cascades, severed ligaments released the muscles they once contained and lumps of fat spilled onto fabrics of different colors and textures. A fascination for these encounters puts the body at the center of my work.
Clothes from my own wardrobe make up the bulk of the material I use in my fabric work. Committed to giving discarded clothing and other household textile items a second chance in the world, I periodically cannibalize my own closet in search of supplies to create sculptures. By contrasting visceral imagery with soft materials, I seek to reintegrate the physicality of our bodies and the natural processes of birth, growth and decay into our existential understanding of life.
It is through this combination of fascination with the human body and muscle, the influence of Argentina’s meat culture and its obsession with recycling materials to give old materials a beautiful new life that, for me, exemplifies really the meaning of kashrut.
When I stand among “Tropical Slaughterhouse” pieces, I remember the sanctity of animal life and our ecosystem that allows us humans to have such easy access to meat. The odd combination of bloody and beautiful work draws you in and makes you question your own relationship with meat and eating animals
Thanks to Tamara’s work, I remember being grateful for the animals and the food I eat, and isn’t that the ultimate meaning of kashrut?
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