In Jewish tradition, we are taught that there is a special mitzvah in creating beautiful Jewish ritual objects. This is called hiddur mitzvah. HANDS ON exemplifies hiddur mitzvah, both by creating beautiful hamsot and also by using artistic practice to connect to Jewish tradition. HANDS ON keeps the past alive and brings tradition into modernity, and shows us that through art we can create strong connections within the Jewish community, and one person to another.
When Jewish artist Vicki Reikes Fox moved away from California in 2006, she left behind close friend and fellow artist Georgia Freedman-Harvey. With 3,000 miles of distance between them, the two decided to start an art-based correspondence using the symbol of the hand-shaped hamsa as the focus of their innovative collaboration. They set out to fill the divide between instant connections influenced by social media, and Jewish traditions found in the physical creation of ritual objects.
Over the course a decade, Fox and Freedman-Harvey have created a collection of over fifty hamsot. The hamsot represent a wide array of experiences related to shared and personal life cycle events. Fox and Freedman-Harvey made hamsot to reflect on their lives, including but not limited to raising children, watching parents age, and the ebb and flow of life. Each hamsa is deeply personal and vastly different in form, medium, and color. The two artists have created hamsot made of paper, fabric, metal, thread, and beads. They felted, hammered, painted, printed, collaged and embroidered them over the course of their creative collaboration. Each piece tells a unique story.
The artists intentionally chose the hamsa as the focus of the correspondence because of the symbol’s message. The hamsa is an ancient symbol, representing protection against the evil eye. While it has strong Jewish roots, the hamsa appears in many cultures and traditions. Today, it has come to symbolize a transcendent symbol of hope in the face of evil. We all have hopes and prayers, from wishing for the wellbeing of a new baby to anticipating healing from sickness, that the ancient hamsa can speak to in our modern lives. Giving a hamsa to a person in need of hope, harkens back to an ancient practice, both Jewish and non-Jewish, of art-based prayer.
The hamsa for Fox and Freedman-Harvey, was important because of its Jewish roots, and gave them a symbol through which to shape their personal connections. A decade of correspondence plays out on the hamsot in this collection. Simultaneously, the process of creating the hamsot as an artistic dialogue represents an art-based form of hevruta, Jewish study. Through the construction of this distinctive collection Fox and Freedman-Harvey became Jewish study partners to one another, just as traditional hevruta partners would discuss a chapter of Torah. HANDS ON invites Jewish community members into this Jewish tradition through the vehicle of artistic creation and communication towards alternative forms of Jewish participation.
Our Jewish community needs spaces through which community members can engage with their Judaism authentically through art. Our contemporary society, saturated with social media, is hungry for examples of alternative forms of communication, ways of connecting that are richer and deeper than clicking a button. HANDS ON allows us to engage in modernity while recognizing our Jewish traditions. HANDS ON is an artistic endeavor of our Jewish future, one ripe with art-based prayer practice and vibrant community engagement.
In my work as a Fine Arts consultant I manage and oversee private and foundation art collections for collectors, artists’ estates and organizations. Including work history as the in-house curator at several colleges. International exhibition experience in Vienna and Jerusalem, as well as ongoing independent curating engagements. In addition, I work with artists to advise them how to organize and manage their artwork. I am involved in the Surface Art Association and the Jewish Artist Initiative. I am a co-collaborator on the Hamsa Project, which promotes an ongoing dialogue between artists through the exchange of artwork. Academic teaching and workshop experience.
Vicki Reikes Fox
Vicki Reikes Fox is a museum professional, artist, writer, and educator who specializes in art and its relation to the Jewish experience. Fox was the founding project director of Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience and writer of Shalom Y’all: Images of Jewish Life in the American South. She has worked as a consultant in art and ethnic museums for more than 25 years. Fox holds an M.A. in Jewish Education from Hebrew Union College and a B.A. in Art History from Tulane University.