Bear witness: The story of Lot's wife explored through art, poetry

Rabbi Sandy SassoView print quality image
Rabbi Sandy Sasso, a member of the IUPUI Board of Advisors, has teamed up with the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute to present another evocative Religion, Spirituality and the Arts seminar. The opening reception and performances are March 7 at the Jewish Community Center. Photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University

She didn't have a name in the Bible, yet she has multiple geographic formations named after her.

Rabbi Sandy Sasso, a member of the IUPUI Board of Advisors, chose a thought-provoking theme for the 2019 Religion, Spirituality and the Arts seminar. During one of her visits to the Dead Sea, the rabbi found a postcard of a pillar of salt with "Lot's wife" printed on the back. She became fascinated with the narrative of the character.

The story in Genesis 19 has had different interpretations throughout the millennia. Today, perhaps the woman who was transformed to a pillar of salt after she looked back to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah should bring more consideration.

"The narrative had been used in negative ways against women," Sasso explained. "'Women are disobedient. They don't listen.' If you look at the story and the many ways it has been interpreted, you begin to discover something richer, more textured."

Indianapolis poet Marjie G. Giffin, top, will display verses inspired by Lot's wife. "Witness" by Alys Caviness-Gober, left, and "Remember Jack’s Wife" by Stan Blevins will be in the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts exhibition, which will run through April 30 at the Jewish Community Center. Top photo by Tim Brouk, Indiana University; left and right images provided by the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute

Sasso and the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute have teamed up to present an evening of art, poetry and music exploring various themes applied to Lot's wife. The reception for the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts seminar starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 7, at the Jewish Community Center. Performances will begin at 6:30 p.m.

The Indianapolis visual artists, poets and musicians were selected in the summer of 2018. They met regularly to discuss differing viewpoints of this tale before putting paintbrush to canvas, word to verse. The visual work will hang through April 30 at the JCC.

Q: Why did you choose to focus on Lot's wife this year?

Sandy Sasso: What story would Lot's wife tell, if we allowed her to speak? Does she turn out of compassion for those lives that were being lost in the place she had lived? Recall that two of her daughters remained in the city. Did she turn out of shame for being one of the only survivors, out of regret for all that was being destroyed? Read this way, her image is not of disobedience but of grief, compassion, love.

Q: What are some more modern ideas that relate to the story of Lot's wife?

SS: Rabbinic literature gives Lot's wife a name, Idit, which means witness. In her, poets and artists have seen the refugee, the Holocaust survivor and the victim. In the seminar, we explore the necessity of bearing witness and the dangers of becoming paralyzed by the past that keeps us from moving forward.

Q: How did you select the artists for the exhibition?

SS: There is an application process. We look at artists' portfolios. We want individuals who are open to considering sacred texts in fresh ways. We're always looking for a diversity of artists. We bring composers alongside poets alongside sculptors alongside painters. It makes for interesting conversation. There are many religion-and-arts programs across the country, but none like this.

Q: What is the history of the Religion, Spirituality and the Arts seminar?

SS: The seminar actually began in 2013 at Butler University. Our first exhibit was in 2014. This last year, we moved the program to IUPUI with Jason Kelly and the Arts and Humanities Institute. It's been really wonderful.

Q: What have been past themes and locations for the seminar?

SS: We have studied the binding of Isaac, the creation story, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel. In the past, we have had exhibitions at Clowes Hall, the Harrison Center, a Unitarian church and downtown at the Artsgarden.

Q: How do the artists best interpret these stories?

SS: In the application process, we ask how they imagine the seminar will connect with their art. Are they open to considering old stories in new ways, to bringing a new perspective to ancient texts? Their artistic vision continues to challenge and surprise us.