My London: Tradition and Reinvention

June 1, 2012
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Jacqueline Nicholls

I am a London based artist. My art, including a paper cut (below) from a series that confronts rabbinic misogynist texts using sexualized images of women, engages with traditional Jewish texts and ideas. Sometimes it’s a conversation; often it’s an argument. My work revolves around the subject of “home.” I realize I’m also heavily influenced by this city.

London can be a place where people are angry with the status quo. People gather from around the country to protest and articulate their dissatisfaction with authority. A punk, anarchic spirit infuses that anger and inspires me. London’s street fashion doesn’t abandon traditional forms, but finds new ways to reinvent and subvert them. For example, the once-conformist bowler hat becomes a menacing icon in Stanley Kubrick’s film “A Clockwork Orange,” and is worn today by punk musicians and artists.

London is full of people from elsewhere. Waves of immigrants from all across the globe have layered the city, a fact that is reflected in the many spoken languages and cuisines. One’s appetite for food, culture, or art can cross the globe without having to leave this city. Being Jewish is being part of that mix. Seeing other artists engage with their ethnicity has encouraged me to shrug off my “too Jewish” self-consciousness. Being Jewish is my voice in the multilingual conversation of London.

This is one of my favorite London myths: When Shabbatai Tzvi announced himself as the Messiah, many European Jews sold their property and made plans to join him. London Jews, though, placed bets on whether he was or was not the Messiah. Admittedly, their response shows a disheartening resistance to change, but also a disposition to be playful and not too earnest.

This is my London: a mix of ethnic backgrounds and a sense of history and tradition that are in a constant process of reinvention. Londoners never take themselves too seriously.  London’s stories and myths give me confidence to assert that my life story as a Jew is part of the London story and to say to the tradition: I will not be blindly reverential; I’m a Londoner.


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Jacqueline Nicholls is an artist and Jewish educator who uses her art to explore traditional Jewish ideas in untraditional ways. She exhibits internationally. An artist-in-residence with the Forward, Nicholls also teaches at the London School of Jewish Studies, a Modern-Orthodox adult education college. She is currently preparing for a solo show in New York in the fall. Her latest project is, a drawing-a-day online omer counter with Amichai Lau-Lavie. Her work can be viewed at

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