Laurie Wohl's Unweavings® fiber art pieces are held in the collections of the Museum of Arts and Design (NYC), the American Bible Society (NYC), The Constitutional Court of South Africa, Catholic Theological Union (Chicago), and numerous other public and private collections. Her works have been on long-term loan to the United States Embassies in Beirut, Vienna, Tunis, Cape Town, and Pretoria.
Wohl has accomplished a number of liturgical projects. Fourth Presbyterian Church (Chicago) commissioned The Psalms Project—12 major works for its sanctuary—which was completed in 2008. Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church (NYC) commissioned the Talbot Bible Stoles project—four works for its sanctuary—which were completed and installed in 2005. Other liturgical projects include those for Monmouth Reform Temple (NJ), Central Presbyterian Church (Atlanta), and First Presbyterian Church (Durham, NC). In 2003, Ms. Wohl received an Honor Design Award for The Psalms Project, from the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture (AIA). The 2010 Award of Excellence was given to her piece “Prayer” by the Surface Design Association. Her piece “Window of Prayers” received first place in the Liturgical and Sacred Art 2014 exhibition.
In 2011 and 2013, Wohl received grants from the Center for the Arts, Religion, and Education, and the Surface Design Association for her interfaith project—“Birds of Longing: Exile and Memory”—which relates poetry from the Convivencia to contemporary Middle Eastern poetry in the context of her Unweavings® fiber art pieces. The project is traveling to various interfaith venues through the spring of 2017.
Wohl’s work has been featured in numerous solo exhibitions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, Union Theological Seminary, Hebrew Union College Museum, Atelier International (NYC), the South Bend Regional Museum of Art (IND), Catholic Theological Union (Chicago), Fourth Presbyterian Church (Chicago, IL), Central Presbyterian Church (Atlanta, GA), and First Presbyterian Church (Durham, NC). Wohl has curated a number of interfaith and multi-cultural exhibitions, including “With Many Voices” (Fourth Presbyterian Church) and “Art from Soweto” (ARC Gallery and Catholic Theological Union). Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, she has given a series of lectures and workshops in Soweto, Johannesburg, and Pretoria, South Africa. She has also given numerous lectures and workshops in the United States on issues of art and worship, art, and faith, art and resistance to apartheid, and textile as narrative/ritual. Among her special projects have been interactive set designs for full-length dance pieces by Callince Dance (NYC) and Jan Erkert & Dancers (Chicago).
Wohl’s Unweavings® fiber art pieces have been discussed in Call to Worship Magazine, Fiberarts Magazine, Surface Design Journal, and various other publications and catalogues. Her exhibition history goes back to 1989. Ms. Wohl lives and works in New York City.
My Unweavings® fiber art pieces convey spiritual narratives through form, color, texture, and calligraphy. The words within each piece and the unwoven form that suggests these words serve as a visual interpretation or midrash, evoking the poetry of various biblical texts. The unwoven spaces form symbolic shapes—wings, ladders, prayer shawls, veils, trees, falling waters, rivers, and the sacred architecture of windows, domes, and gates. The narrative is enhanced by my own distinctive iconography, indicating guardians, messengers, journeying and praying figures, processional figures, and more.
By unweaving the fabric I make manifest what is hidden within the material—liberating the threads to create shape, then “reweaving” through color, texture, and text. The narrative emerges from the juxtaposition of images within the surface, from the texts I choose, and from the combination of color, texture, and pattern which convey a sense of time and place. My work alludes to the oldest traditions of narrative textiles, but in a completely contemporary idiom. And the pieces become carriers of my individual and our collective memories, through the spiritual narratives they transmit.
My current interfaith project—“Birds of Longing: Exile and Memory”—interweaves Christian, Jewish, and Muslim poetry and spiritual texts from the period of the Convivencia in Spain (eighth through fifteenth centuries) with those of contemporary Middle Eastern poets, particularly Palestinian and Israeli. The project is an extension of my prior interfaith explorations of the relationship between Christianity and Judaism. It also continues my exploration of the meaning of the spiritual in art. The initial part of the project consists of 14 pieces, completed between 2011-2014.
Through research into the period of the Convivencia and into the wealth of contemporary Middle Eastern poetry, I found the themes that constitute my “Birds of Longing: Exile and Memory” project—the poetry of spiritual love, often couched in the language of secular love, the poetry of exile, a poetry of nostalgia for Andalusia, poetry referencing Old and New Testament texts, and poetry speaking of enemies and reconciliation. While the emphasis, as with my earlier interfaith work, is on the threads that bind us, I came to appreciate the particularity of the experience of each community at the same time as I was discovering the commonality of the themes.
I also discovered the wonderful shared imagery in the poetry: the olive tree, birds, exile in the image of abandoned campsites, God as a gazelle. I addressed the privileging of the text, or Word, over image in Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim worship by visually interweaving texts using Arabic and Hebrew, Greek, Latin and English calligraphy, as well as by incorporating Islamic architectural forms and color references. An audio component is integral to the project and consists of readings in English, Arabic and Hebrew of the portions of the poems and spiritual texts contained in the Unweavings. The Arabic and Hebrew are then interwoven to create a soundscape illustrating the commonality of sounds of the Middle Eastern languages.
My hope for the project is that its visual and auditory impact will make vivid for viewers the connections among the Abrahamic religions and stimulate thought about their shared emotional, aesthetic, and thematic content.
Visit Laurie Wohl’s website here.