Maternal Torah (2008) by Jacqueline Nicholls. Made from sinamay, 60 x 40 x 22 cm
Jacqueline Nicholls' 'Maternal Torah – Torat Imecha’ is part of a series which combine elements of a traditional cover for the sefer torah (Jewish scrolls of the law, read in the synagogue service) with a woman’s corset. She explains, "from the sefer torah we have the proportions, the oval top with the two holes, the fringing. From the woman’s corset there are the very feminine shapely curves, the ribbon binding at the back, and the fringing …
She continues, "Torah is often described in traditional learning circles as a feminine object. The torah is held, kissed, even married to" (during the festival of Simchat Torah).
"The corset seems to be a perfect metaphor for Torah, and halacha (Jewish Law) – it gives shape, support, constrains ... .
"The phrase 'Torat Imecha' is from the book of Mishlei (Proverbs) - 'listen children to your father's instructions, but do not forget your mother's torah (torat imecha).' "
Jacqueline Nicholls was born in 1971 in Nottingham, UK. She is now a London-based artist who says she "uses art to explore and challenge traditional Jewish ideas in untraditional ways".
Trained as an architect, she then studied medical illustration before turning to fine art. She employs different media and craft techniques including drawings, print, embroidery, tailoring, paper-cutting and knitting.
She teaches in adult Jewish education, and uses her work to bring together "the art studio and the beit midrash (traditional Jewish place of study and learning)". In her artwork she will often quote texts that have motivated her to respond.
Richard McBee (TheJewishPress.com, 14 Oct 2012) wrote about Jacqueline Nicholls: New Works exhibition for the JCC Manhattan.
"For Nicholls a Jewish woman must be armed with a deep and abiding knowledge of Torah, Tanach and Talmud, hand in hand, if she so chooses, with an artistic immersion in what has been called the Feminine Crafts, i.e. the fabric arts and traditional 'Women’s Work'. This Jewish artist affirms that she must be especially articulate in Jewish texts to practice a 'counter-voice' to turn the narrative”...
"She sees the Talmud as being naturally feminine, deeply aligned with Women’s Work since it is fundamentally non-linear, constantly switching between the minutia and the global, much in the same way as weaving or embroidery must keep in mind the big-picture while it concentrates on each and every stitch.
"She is an inspiration of what a thoroughly informed modern Jewish art can be. It seems like a truly new dawn is breaking."