Text and Art and LABAlive

Counting the days until the first 2018 LABAlive on March 22nd, Ruby Namdar, celebrated author of the The Ruined House and former LABA teacher, muses over art inspired by ancient Jewish texts. 

During my ten years tenure as LABA faculty, I had the privilege of teaching some of the most amazing texts ever written to a group of incredibly creative, smart and original artists. It wasn’t just the joy of studying ancient Jewish texts with these often young, and very often secular, artists — but also the pleasure of watching these texts seep into their psyche and fertilize it in such interesting and unexpected ways.

One of the highlights of the LABA experience is the public events — the famous LABAlives — in which our artists showcase their work and sometimes discuss their process and sources of inspiration.

We never required the works to be “Jewish,” and as a matter of fact we never really required a direct connection between the works we showed at our LABAlive events and the texts we studied in the intimate setting of the LABA house of study. For us, there was no doubt that studying these potent ancient texts in an equally potent contemporary setting is bound to leave an imprint on our artists, whether they chose to express it in their work or not. Not surprisingly, many of our artists chose to infuse their work with some of the language, imagery and mythology of the majestic and inspiring texts they discovered at LABA.

In general, we weren’t very busy with the question of “Jewish art.” We never committed to a definition of “Jewish art”; as a matter of fact we never committed to making “Jewish art” our goal.

For many of us, the particular served as a gateway for the universal — and the universal was most certainly used as a gateway to the particular. We often used our non-Jewish artistic and cultural experience as a key for the treasure box of Jewish cultural heritage. Few things can be as gratifying as seeing this process come to fruition and being shared with the wider audience in one of our LABAlive events.