One West 4th Street
New York, New York
This exhibition features her most recent works that were inspired by Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), one of the 63 tractates found in the Mishnah, the code of Jewish law compiled in the early third century, C.E. Pirke Avot, an anthology of stories and maxims, expresses the authority of the rabbis, who succeeded the prophets and priests as educators and leaders of the Jewish community following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. The rabbis stressed study as a religious act, Torah as the core text, the intergenerational links of Torah interpretation, and Torah and its commentary as the literature that mirrors and shapes all Jewish experience.
The interweaving of text and interpretation comes to life in Levy's textile works, which feature the techniques of appliqué, chain-stitch embroidery, and trapunto work. She embeds her works with inscriptions of the sayings of the rabbis, surrounded by symbolic imagery that visually amplifies the meanings of their teachings. Her symbols include the Torah scroll; the seven-branched menorah, the earliest symbol of Judaism, alluding to the seven days of creation; the pomegranate, described in the Bible as adorning the priestly garment hem and said to contain 613 seeds, reflecting the number of obligations required of observant Jewish practice; flowering trees, expressing the affirmation of the Torah as a source of life; the crown, symbolizing the authority of the Torah; inscriptions of the names of the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, signifying the continuity from generation to generation; the Hebrew letter shin, representing the name of God; stalks of wheat, referring to sustenance of Torah; and the tablets of the Ten Commandments, emblematic of the values that derive from studying Torah and living justly. Levy's themes include some of the key sayings of Pirke Avot, including:
Levy expresses a feminist understanding of Jewish text and practice in these works. Her belief in gender equality is seen in Ushpizot, a tapestry created shortly after her mother's death. She utilized textiles from her mother's collection of formal gowns to depict seven Biblical women: Eve, Sarah, Deborah, Miriam, Esther, Avigail, and Hulda, for a wall covering for the Sukkah - the outdoor structure used during the fall festival of Sukkot, evoking the temporary dwellings used by the Israelites during their Exodus journey in the desert. Breaking from the tradition of symbolic representations of the patriarchs as the special guests in the Sukkah, Levy's female guests evoke the heroism, strength, and wisdom of celebrated women, and express Levy's personal memories of her mother, as well.
Levy's work reflects the inner dialogue between the artist's Jewish life and the rich heritage of Jewish tradition and culture. Her works create a new symbolic language through visual imagery that connects the human imagination and spirit.