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Black Lives Matter text, enveloped in a tallit, a Jewish prayer shawl, with sacred text below. For months this idea has been stewing on the hot fires of my frustration and feelings of helplessness. I want to believe that art can make a difference, can communicate more deeply, can bring peoples together, can change the world — but my faith often flags. Maybe each piece can only be a small step, hopefully in the right direction, for humanity.
The Hebrew text is from the Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5 and means: “Anyone who destroys a life is considered to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life has saved an entire world.”
I had a hard time designing this papercut. I knew that I wanted the tallit to be enveloping, hugging, holding the English text, but I didn’t want to *cut* the tallit. But it’s a papercut; how else can I put two images on top of each other? Cutting the letters out of another piece of paper and laying them down on top of the tallit would have been an option, but then I would have had to get into detailed placement of tiny pieces of paper, and glue, and I would rather continue to struggle with this form and its restrictions than start to mess with glue. So I decided to cut the letters out, cut with my knife into the tallit; this was difficult. Perhaps the meaning to understand from this is that racism — and the fact that “Black Lives Matter!” ever even had to be stated, insisted upon, shouted to combat the lies we see enacted by much of our society — cuts into my Jewish experience, and my life, and demands a Jewish response.
Practicalities of cutting Notes
I often print out my Hebrew text from the computer directly onto the paper that I plan to cut. In this case, I wanted the paper to be black, which I cannot print on. So I had to print onto white paper, tape it to the black paper, and cut both layers at once. And the letters are SO tiny. This cutting process was more tedius than usual, but it put me in the position of cutting identical black and white letters at the same time. I often had to completely destroy the white letters in order to get the black ones out. I feel there is poetry in this, though I can’t put it into words.
Meanings in the text
About the text: There is something that makes this text from the mishnah even more meaningful, when you consider that many people react to police shootings of Black men by saying “well, the Black guy was probably doing something wrong/illegal.” This text comes from a section not about the general importance of life, but about how one should legally handle a capital case: this is where the witnesses are thinking about a person who may be facing the death penalty, a person who has possibly done something very very bad. This is the place where the witnesses are cautioned to think VERY VERY carefully about what they say they saw or heard, because what they say could result in a person getting the death penalty. This situation highlights the sacredness of life.