Berit Engen WEFT and D'RASH – A Thousand Jewish Tapestries

(Photo: Rivkah Gevinson)

Welcome to 
WEFT and D'RASH – A Thousand Jewish Tapestries
My project is an ongoing undertaking which I began in 2007. I use the ancient craft of weaving to engage in the centuries-old tradition of making commentaries on Jewish texts and to respond to various aspects of Jewish life. It currently totals approximately 620 small-scale, fine-art tapestries woven with linen yarn. Sizes vary, usually measuring around 9 x 7 inches.
Birth, death, love, and loss – circumstances that affect every human being – Judaism touches on these shared experiences with its own rituals. I hope that anyone, regardless of background and personal belief, will find hope and comfort in the tapestries which deal with these universal themes. 
'Weft' is the technical term for the colored yarn that is woven into the vertical warp of grey threads attached to a loom or frame. 'D'rash' (pronounced drahsh, and with the same root as the more commonly used word 'midrash'), is a Hebrew term meaning both inquiry and commentary. It is the yarn of the weft that makes the picture itself and becomes the artistic interpretation, my woven d’rash. I weave almost exclusively with linen yarn because I love the way the fibers reflect light, like dew at dawn. 

In order to have an extensive body of pictorial commentaries, I chose to weave many small-scale tapestries. Each tapestry takes about five days to complete, and each is one-of-a-kind. More importantly, I like the intimacy of small, finely woven pictures: one sees and experiences fiber, colors, technique, structure, technical expressions, and image all in the same moment. I compare my tapestries to Japanese Haiku: formally constrained by a miniature size, imagistic and focused, yet allusive.

My tapestries are woven in a specific place and time – in the USA at the beginnng of the twenty-first century. They are colored by my specific Jewish experience, a tiny and subjective part of the larger Jewish civilization which began 4000 years ago and developed on all continents. In my unfinished, ongoing project, I find inspiration in so much that the Jewish experience encompasses: from the laws of the Torah to the words of living poets; from the chanting of ancient prayers to contemporary liturgical compositions; from the ethical wisdom of the prophets to the continuing commitment to repair the world; from romantic Sephardic songs to the incisiveness of Yiddish curses; from religious ancestors’ wandering in the desert to recent spiritual renewal in synagogues.

With my many midrashic tapestries, I weave my love of Judaism. I hope I can share this affection for its unique wisdom and stories with Jews and non-Jews alike. 

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