Interfaith Identity at 50: The Art Car
For my fiftieth birthday, I began transforming my ancient minivan into an art car. I called on friends to drop by with any small, recycled, impermeable objects that could be glued onto my front hood. The inspiration came from my years living in Baltimore, where art cars are a tradition, celebrated at the American Visionary Art Museum, and in a parade at the suberb summer festival known as Artscape. I told my friend Rebecca, “In my second fifty years, I’m going to let all the beautiful, quirky stuff that was buried inside me rise to the surface and go on diplay on the hood of my car.” She laughed and sighed, “It wasn’t all that buried, Sue.” Fair enough.
Originally, I had no plan for the interfaith theme to infiltrate the art car project. It simply began to happen, based on the objects my friends offered up. My friend Ellen brought over a colorful cross. My friend Ann Marie contributed a chipped ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary. A plastic angel appeared, followed shortly by a tiny rubber fingerpuppet of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesh, and then, an orange dreidel. My friend Julia arrived with a jumble of alphabet beads and asked, “Guess what it spells?” The letters fell into place to reveal the answer: “On Being Both.”
While lovingly applying the cross to my car, I thought back to the 1980s, when Madonna made giant cross pendants a pop culture statement. As a young woman who was raised Jewish, I did not think it was seemly for me to participate in this glam punk trend. It made sense to me that Madonna, raised Catholic and saddled with a religious name, could get away with appropriating, twisting, or paying hommage to the cross in this way. She also wore a star of David alongside her cross at times. (She later discovered Kabbalah, though it rankles many Jewish leaders when celebrities (or others) study Kabbalah without committing to Judaism.)
I still would probably never wear a cross by itself: I would not leave out my (prominent? dominant?) Jewish side this way. But on my birthday, a minister friend created for me a necklace with a dozen tiny religious charms: a kiddush cup, a matzoh, a menorah, a cross, “JC” (Jesus Christ? Jewish/Christian?). I wore the necklace to my son’s graduation from interfaith Sunday School, safe in the heart of my interfaith community. I don’t know if I would wear it just anywhere: it will probably flummox people. But it does represent me, and our family.
Meanwhile, I am somehow not only comfortable with all the religious symbols affixed to my car, I am getting a huge creative kick out of recombining them into an optimistic and inclusive art project. The religions theme is subtle, woven through the mosaic, alongside other motifs emerging organically (peace, the cast-off toys from our growing children, art for the sake of art). But though I did not set out with this intention, I see now that my religious interior–complex, colorful, joyous, open to interpretation, simultaneously familiar and incrutable–now has an exterior manifestation, on the hood of my car. If you see my “Bothmobile” at a traffic light, honk for harmony.