For the third, and the last (for now), of my weekly words on contemporary art I’m returning to the paper cut. In this case a most cutting cut. Fair disclosure, the artists Jacqueline Nicolls is a good friend.
In the Ladies Guild Collection, viewable at
Nicolls uses a most conservative form – a paper doily, perhaps the sort of thing one might find under the biscuits at a Shabbat Kiddush. But look closely and the doilies turn out to be made up of a text surrounded by images – shocking texts and shocking images drawn from the Talmud and similar texts that depict women in dark and, frankly offensive ways.
“One cup of wine is becoming to a woman, two are degrading, three she solicits publicly, four she solicits even an ass in the street and cares not.” Ketubot 63a
It’s true – texts like this, and worse, do exist on our tradition. Nicolls however refuses to buckle under them. The carefully cut out designs around the central text are largely of women embodying the worst nightmares of the, presumably, men who spoke these texts. The texts are, in many ways, bullying, unfair, certainly one-sided. The images, coupled with the fragility of the medium – the paper-cut – stand up to the bully and face down the misogyny. The texts reflect the male-only environment from which so much Rabbinic culture emerged. The images ensure that women are very much in mind. No longer a ‘less-seen-the-better’ afterthought to the central Rabbinic preoccupation with men. It’s a fascinating marriage of form and content and it’s a brave critique of andocentric Rabbinic culture that could only be made from a place of knowledge and understanding.