Posts Tagged ‘tattoo’

A Cure For Pessimism?

August 14, 2019

DeathWarrant-RGB.jpg

Amidst the daily deluge of corrupt politics, death and disaster in the mainstream and social media feeds, I sometimes imagine being a passenger in the boat steered by the mythical Charon whose eternal task was to guide newly deceased souls across the dark River Styx* to their destination in the Underworld. These journeys were long and fraught with terrors, but these were a mere preview of what lay ahead in the Land of the Dead.

Medieval Woodcut Print from Johannes Grüninger's 1502 Edition of the Aeneid 

Photo Credit: danielgoodantiquarianbooks

Of course I’m being a bit melodramatic, yet keeping our heads above those fearful waters is a challenge we have faced for millennia as we watch and often suffer as world leaders cycle their countries through endlessly alternating phases of constructive good and deconstructive evil. As I suggested in my previous essay, The Nature Of Evil, (https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/on-the-nature-of-evil/), we are now firmly embroiled in the toxic immorality that informs evil, courtesy of numerous would-be dictators, their sycophants and their noisy ‘populist’ governments. I am not a scholar of history or politics, so I can only write as an aging observer regarding the inevitable phenomena of life and death that occur in tandem with both.

Armchair philosophers often post sentimental images and feel-good bon-mots at online venues in contrast to proponents of subcultures that revel in the certainties and vagaries of death proudly displaying memento mori as death’s head tattoos, arcane body modifications, clothing and jewelry. Ironically, I find this demographic interesting because I suspect that life is actually being celebrated here with such dark symbolism acting as an apotropaic ward against death.

Much is made of Death and the idea of it in the collective imagination whether it arrives via age, disease, accident, murder, ‘acts of god’ and nature or war and punishment for criminal acts. We variously honor it, celebrate it, welcome it or mourn for those who succumb to it via any of those vectors.

The Gaming Of Life & Death: from AIRPLAY: A Catch Of Jugglers (Imaginarius Editions, 2018)

 

The fear of death has been anthropomorphized to enhance or accompany the human dread of its occurrence. Legends and myths (like the illustration here that visualizes an ancient Egyptian concept of cosmic judgment) have been formulated to explain and assuage fear of it as though it were something that was subject to human influence or control. When it isn’t exploited for political gain, religion, too, helps us cope while encouraging us to live and live well.  

Even those who choose death over life when life becomes too challenging to endure overestimate their own importance as though their own death will matter beyond someone’s casual perusal of a printed obituary or a silent pause in subsequent conversation. Why? Because Death is indifferent; to wealth, fame, brilliance, youth or age. It merely has a job to do. And that job is to fill a blip in time, to punctuate the continuum, the vast, incomprehensible cosmic thread that serves as the referee between order and chaos. 

But lest you think my observations are meant to be discouraging or depressing,  I should note that any discussion of death must include the rationale of those who believe in the concept of a life after life, a ‘ world to come’ so to speak. Having read several ‘testimonial’ accounts (from an array of writers, including a well-respected neurosurgeon), that offer rational-sounding evidence of such a realm, I can only say that I am comforted to imagine that death is not the end of us and that the unknown is not necessarily to be feared. 

So, while many notable religious sages have put forth the idea that each day is a new chance to correct our errors and enhance our legacies, these words alone will not cure the world’s pessimism. In each of our actions, we have the ability to choose between positive and negative thoughts and enact behaviors that characterize either of these if we make ourselves aware of the consequences. 

I am only one person and have no medicine or cure for what currently ails the world, but I do know this: our existence will have merit if we can compartmentalize the world’s ills and choose to live, laugh, let live and be kind to all who aren’t or who don’t seem to want it.

If I can manage to make those sentiments complement the creative work to which I’ve devoted my life, well, so much the better. 

*https://mythology.net/greek/greek-concepts/river-styx/

Thoughts On Week 2: Notes From London: Above & Below @KICKSTARTER!

April 16, 2015

One week has passed since my Kickstarter book project launched. It’s been quite exciting, first, being chosen as a Kickstarter Staff Pick and of course receiving encouragement and many kind words from friends around the world. To date, Notes From London: Above & Below is now at 16% of its $3,000 goal, with 23 days until the campaign ends on May 10 at 3:20PM.

For the duration of the campaign, I’ll post illustrations from this unique book here and at my Kickstarter page which you can reach from this link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1330347473/notes-from-london-above-and-below

You are invited to comment and /or post your questions and of course Pledge Your $upport to help bring this creative endeavor to life!

I look forward to hearing from you and thank you in advance for your contributions!

Notes From London: Above & Below is a very special book for me. It not only distills many of the strange and wonderful experiences of my travels to London from 2002-2009 but also marks important milestones in both my creative development and family dynamics that are reflected on my dedication page.

So, without further ado, here is the illustration called Lillith@Shoreditch. Spotted at Apostrophé, a tasty, inviting café in East London’s media district, this unusual person and her ‘pets’ was a drawing just waiting to happen. The annotation that appears next to her explains it all…LillithShoreditch

The Evolution Of Choice: Tattoo Or Not To?

August 16, 2012

This week, in our reading of Parashah Re’eh in the book of Devarim (Deuteronomy) we discover a complex chapter that addresses the Israelites’ approaching settlement of Canaan. It is filled with cultural admonishments and exhortations designed to preserve the relatively fledging concept of monotheism. Because so much of the text recaps stories and strong points of the first four books of the Torah, I chose to focus on the brief section (14:1-14:3) that seemed pointedly relevant to contemporary life; the section that addresses choice in individual holiness.

As an illustrator and graphic designer, it is necessary to establish a unique brand identity within an extremely competitive market. This logo, or mark that represents our professional achievements and aspirations, though it may take the form of a simple graphic or phrase requires much thought. It becomes the face you present to the world. Though I have experimented with several designs over the years, a sun and moon motif remains my favorite, since it speaks to the timelessness of creative spirit.

A little story: Once, years ago at a neighborhood shop I purchased some stones and beads that I could fashion into a necklace. As I reached into my purse to pay for these items, one of my business cards inadvertently fell onto the counter. A young patron behind me caught a glimpse of it and immediately inquired if she might have one so that she could copy the design for a tattoo. For a moment I was flattered and somewhat amused, but my inner ‘Nitzotz Ha-Yehudi‘ quietly nudged me. “This tattoo (K’tovet Ka’aka) would be so not kosher!” it seemed to say. I offered a crooked smile and told her, “It’s nice that you like my work; thanks. Maybe you are not Jewish, but I’m afraid my religion doesn’t permit tattoos and I would not feel good about letting my work be used for them.” The young woman stared at me. “Oh,” she said with a frown. “Too bad, it’s a great design.” Something about her narrowed eyes told me she would have some version of it made anyway. Oh well.

Though tattoos are as old as the history of many cultures (full body coverage is a fine art in Japan called horimono), they’ve become ubiquitous in our urban landscape with less clothing worn in public being the norm. I began to pay special attention to the numerous young people sporting a variety of tattoos and body piercings when I left the shop. At that time, I hadn’t seen any tattooed Jews, but maybe they weren’t as bold about them as they are today given the caché of magen-david studded tabloid celebrities who profess to be ‘into’ kabbalah.

Anyway, I found some of the wide array of designs interesting, even technically brilliant from an artistic perspective, but deeply disturbing otherwise. Perhaps it was their aura of permanence (though removal is easier these days), but in retrospect I think that my fickle artistic sensibilities would soon grow weary of any design I chose despite my passion for it at the time. Not to mention how age and wrinkles would distort it.

I was prompted to check out the Torah to verify this prohibition. Though the Torah views tattooing, body piercing and shaving portions of the head as evidence of ancient cultic death rituals and a form of idolatry (Avodah Zarah), other subtle issues around it such as cosmetic tattooing are addressed in rabbinic discourse. Rabbi Chaim Jachter, faculty advisor at The Torah Academy of Bergen County, NJ suggests that our bodies do not belong to us, but are loaned to us that we may perform mitzvot; not to do whatever we wish with them. There are some who scoff at the law barring Jews with tattoos from burial in a Jewish cemetery and by extension at that law requiring that only Jews of good conscience belong in such hallowed ground. No one is perfect, they say. Saints and liars may not be kosher fellow dirt-nappers but who’s going to argue after the funeral? I don’t know the technicalities, but that argument sounds pretty disingenuous to me while it attempts to sanction undesirable behavior.

The young Goth woman about to eat a scorpion kebab accompanies the quotation on the opposite page to demonstrate another important prohibition of this parashah; polluting our inner purity with forbidden foods. The grid below her displays a selection of animals that permitted (full color) and forbidden (mauve color). As world travelers  know, these foods (scorpion kebabs are a common street food in Beijing) are readily available and many find them appetizing. But again, eating such things raises the question of choice. Are she and the tattooed man with the skull Jews? Hard to tell, but for my purposes, they are, since they might easily reflect the growing trend among young Jews to adopt this form of body modification. Nevermind that we have always been a people apart; is it really necessary to blatantly remind the world of that fact? What Holocaust survivor still alive wouldn’t shudder at the sight of a young tattooed Jew? Even if said tattooed Jew loudly proclaims that he/she is proud of their Jewishness and wishes the rest of the world to know it?

That is why I’ve placed a Holocaust witness in the background; for perspective. He might be their ancestor observing their assimilation into our surrounding culture. Yet he seems to say that as much as we try to disguise our ‘Nitzotz Ha-Yehudi’ or even to silence it with sheer rebellion, such choices may again become our undoing.

At the end of the day, it seems to me that being ‘cool’ is knowing you don’t need to be.

The illustrations above may be found along with additional footnotes in my book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009).The book is distributed internationally and may be purchased directly from the publisher by calling: 1-800-227-1428 (US), {+44} 0 1926 430111(UK) or visiting http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html.

Dreams and Nightmares: The Foundation of Faith

June 17, 2011

Parashah Shelakh-Lekha, one of the best-known episodes in the Book of Numbers, concerns the twelve scouts, or spies, sent ahead of the Israelite camp to appraise the nature of the Promised Land. It is often compared to the Golden Calf incident of Exodus, in that both events were tests of the Israelites’ faith and trust in G-d, their leaders and themselves. When the expedition returned, ten of the men dramatically exaggerated what they had seen, in an attempt to discourage the Israelites from accepting their territorial inheritance. “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves and so we must have looked to them.” In the left-hand illustration, the small hybrid grasshopper-man addresses the terror and trepidation the scouts disseminated. Perhaps, they calculated, their negative report would ensure positions of power for themselves among the people instead of encouraging the people to act with faith in G-d and in their own abilities? I have given this creature a tattoo in the shape of the Hebrew letter ‘mem’ whose numerical equivalent is forty because this incident doomed the Israelites to wander in the desert for forty years until a new generation arose that would be spiritually prepared to realize its divine inheritance.

The symbols that comprise these illustrations each tell stories of their own that are too lengthy to include here. They can be found on page 169 in the AfterImages portion of my  book, Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) It can be purchased directly from the publisher, http://www.pomegranate.com/a166.html or from Amazon,  amzn.to/gZSp5j where you will find several reviews.

I welcome your comments and questions here at Imaginarius and will do my best to respond. Wishing you a thoughtful Sabbath and weekend…