Today we sit down with LABA artist fellow Eli Valley to learn about what the LABA artists do and his project for the upcoming EAT festival, two evenings of performances, music, art, teachings and tastings at the Y, June 1-2.
So tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do?
I’m a comic artist and writer. I’m Artist in Residence at the Forward, where I draw political satires, and I’m also working on a novel and comic stories.
And what are you working on for the festival?
I’m working on a graphic retelling of the Biblical narrative of Isaac that focuses on the horrifying roots of the story, in which the “Akedah,” or binding, scarred (or transformed) Isaac for life.
Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration and/or process for this?
It was around Halloween at one of our LABA sessions when we were discussing Rebecca covering Jacob in freshly-skinned hides of animals to fool his father Isaac. It was such a warped retelling of the story — when I was younger, I just learned it in terms of mimicking his brother’s hair, not the bloody meat aspects of the story. I’d already been thinking about animal migrations in the Jacob/Esau story and suddenly the thought of Isaac having been changed as a result of the Akedah trauma was hard to shake. Halloween helped.
In LABA you study ancient Jewish texts in order to gain inspiration for your work. Which texts inspired you?
I loved the texts about Isaac favoring Esau “because venison was in his mouth,” that he insisted on being fed “savory meat” for his “soul” prior to blessing his son, and the texts that described Rebecca covering up Jacob in animal skins. Then I went back to the Akedah narrative and it all seemed to flow from there. The Isaac story is a horrific tragedy; it’s all in the Bible, but the horror’s been lost in the retelling because the source behind the tragedy — Abraham’s inhumane fundamentalism — is lionized when it should be condemned.