Things that are illuminated shed light and clarity, midrash fills in the gaps to some of life's toughest questions, and mash-ups reveal the harmony found in combining disparate elements. Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups is the name of a workshop that brings together three different concepts in an effort to evoke audience responses to exhibitions at the Yeshiva University Museum in New York City. The workshops explore Jewish visual history and challenge participants to probe deeper into the questions that permeate Jewish tradition and art.
Through a guided tour of current exhibitions followed by a hands-on workshop that invites creative responses to the work on display, participants have the opportunity to interact with museum collections in new ways. The workshop raises aesthetic questions, theological quandaries, and uses the language of comic books and illuminated manuscripts to draw innovative conclusions from the participants.
In the spring of 2010, four different groups participated in the Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups workshops. College students, high school students, an after school program for elementary school students, and a group of adult learners created visual work drawing from images taken from the Braginsky Collection, Drawing On Tradition and participants own illustrations.
Depending on the age of the group and their knowledge of Jewish text and art, the activity was framed differently. For the younger students, topics were focused on symbolism and narrative structure. With the more advanced students, Talmudic allusions and historical contexts were introduced. The goal of each workshop was to immerse the participants in the historical and contemporary worlds of Jewish art and then provide a structured but loose setting where they could creatively respond. Participants dissected and remixed images and used arrows and word balloons to create work that explored topics of both personal and biblical proportions.
The following image taken from the Braginsky collection served as a wonderful touchstone for the workshops.
Mantua Haggadah (1560) Detail Courtesy of the Braginsky Collection
The image depicts the return of the Messiah at the gates of Jerusalem heralded by the shofar trumpet of the prophet Elijah. Participants were then introduced to a phrase used in the Bablyonian Talmud called "teiku." which is short form of the Aramaic word teikum meaning, "let it stand." When a section of Talmud ends with this word it means that no answer has been arrived at and that the question should stand forever...or at least until Elijah comes. Whenever the term "teiku" is employed the rabbis are trying to tell the learner to see as many sides of an issue as possible rather than come up with a practical decision about what one should do.
Teiku is an open invitation to interpret since no clear answer exists until the End of Days and the return of the messiah. It is a wonderful creative prompt and helped to frame much of the work produced during the workshops.
The following images are examples of Illuminated Midrash Mash-ups made during the spring of 2010.
From Order to Chaos
Image courtesy of Eric Hamerman and Melanie Greenspan
Image courtesy of Elisheva Eisenberg
Sheridan Gayer, June 2010
The Story of Esther (front)
Image courtesy of Cheryl J. Fish, June 2010
The Different Sides of God
Images courtesy of Sarit Ron, June 2010
Header Image courtesy of Sara Figueroa, June 2010