Shmita: painting a (re)generation

Arielle Tonkin

About Arielle Tonkin

Arielle Tonkin (they/she) is a queer mixed Moroccan and Ashkenazi Jewish artist, educator, and spiritual director living on Ohlone land in the SF Bay Area. Arielle works to dismantle white supremacy through arts & culture work and Jewish and interfaith education work. Arielle weaves relationships, and materializes conversations: the Muslim-Jewish Arts Fellowship, Arts Jam for Social Change, Tzedek Lab, SVARA, and Atiq: Jewish Maker Institute are among their networks of accountability, collective power, creative collaboration and care. Arielle’s artwork and social practice presences, queers, and formalizes the belief that healing through relationship can shift the fabric of social space and eventually, one braided thread at a time, shift the structure of the physical world.

About Shmita: painting a (re)generation

I am an interdisciplinary performance and social practice artist, and my collaborations always begin as conversations. For “Shmita: painting a (re) generation,” I am inspired by Alice Neel, whose artwork records a generation of activists, artists, healers, lovers, queer folks, kids in the neighborhood – in short, a kahal – like Alice, I feel galvanized to create a moving record of our people, our time. I am creating a series of dozens of conversations, and the “artifact” that results from the conversation or “prayerformance,” as I like to call it, is a painting that’s been co-created. This is a way to materialize the kind of prayer that happens between two people and to weave thread across conversation, to make a community.”As water reflects a face to a face, so, too, the heart of one person reflects themselves back to themself”- Mishlei (Proverbs) 27:19I knew it would be meaningful to begin my yearlong shmita-performance-practice by creating a conversation with Alina, a queer and trans musician, politicized social worker, and my yearslong creative practice chevrutah (learning partner). Alina was visiting town for a day, just after Rosh Hashanah. We sat down together for 2.5 hours, and sank deep into conversation. Alina and I have played music and painted alongside each other and created interdisciplinary art gatherings for years, so I was caught by surprise and moved in an unexpected way by the transformation that took place through our process. Alina posted a photo on IG: “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so seen and captured in a still image of myself before. Thank you for this truly healing experience dear one.”I have also made conversations with Mizrahi activist Adi Aboody, Ari Eisen, and begun the process with Nadav David, Annabel Rabiyah, and many other activists, artists, queers, and Jews of color.
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Media submission includes three photographs documenting the artist’s collaborators-in-rest and the painting artifacts that resulted from time spent together talking, singing, relaxing, and reveling in creative rest together. The pulsing heart of this artwork is the in-real-time experience of two hearts connecting and sharing presence together. The painting provides the “frame” for the experience. Jewish agricultural law talks about Pe’ah, or the corners of the fields, and all of the laws associated with sharing crops with those who need. The boundaries of the field, like the boundaries of a canvas, delineate when to grow and when to rest and how to share the fruits of our labors. I am took a shmita year of rest away from teaching in order to replenish the soil and refill the well from which I do all of my work in the world: painting practice, and “making rest” with friends and community members, is my way of dedicating my rest to god, and the result of this prayer together is a trail of paintings, a record of who we are and how we are surviving and thriving in these times. Alina Fox, Adi Aboody, and Ava Sayaka Rosen are the artists, activists, and healers collaborating with Arielle in the first 3 prayerformances, with at least 2 dozen to go!

Media submission includes a 9 minute conversation between Arielle and Alina, a conversation-around-and-about the 2.5 hour prayerformance that resulted in the painted moment you see documented in the cover photo. We talk about how we have spent a decade supporting each other to rest in our creative practices alongside growing up and becoming ourselves. We talk about the cruciality of witness, accompaniment, and chevrutah to mutually support rest over time. Shmita: painting a (re)generation, is a project, but it’s also an ongoing practice. It’s a set of ritual actions to help us keep our fields fertile for decades to come. It’s interdependent, it’s reverent, and it’s fun. We hope you enjoy!