Rainbow Shabbat (detail, center panel)
"Rainbow Shabbat" (1992) is the concluding image in "the Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light," a traveling exhibition that Chicago created in collaboration with her husband, the photographer Donald Woodman. Their eight-year collaboration on this project began in 1985 as a journey through Europe and the Middle East to explore the meaning of the Holocaust in a contemporary context. It was a journey of self-discovery through which Chicago came to understand the strength of her Jewish identity and its influence on her ideas about the artist’s role and the need to create art that aims to transform the world. It was also a journey into darkness that was, needless to say, immensely disturbing on many levels. The result was an exhibition that combined painting and photography, with additional work in tapestry and glass by selected artisans. To conclude the exhibition, Chicago wanted an image of hope, a vision for a future in which people are joined together across differences in age, gender, race, faith and culture to live in harmony with one another and the natural world. She chose to represent this vision in a large stained glass installation, "Rainbow Shabbat: A Vision for the Future," because in her words, "Light is Life." The idea for the Rainbow Shabbat as an image and message of hope came to Chicago during a memorable Shabbat dinner at the home of friends during a visit she and Woodman made to Israel. As she later wrote: "There were twelve people there: men and women from four different countries, of different ages, and mostly strangers. We all went around the table and told stories, and everyone listened for hours. For me the evening brought up not just feelings about my childhood but also the incredibly warm moments Donald and I had shared with Jews around the world. Being welcomed into Jewish homes during our travels gave us a profound sense of a global community and provided me with an idea for the last image of the project, an image of optimism and hope." Chicago chose to depict the Shabbat service with the heads of everyone turned toward the woman—as they would be during her blessing over the candles—while her husband raises his Kiddush cup and sings his wife’s praises. As Chicago intended, this compresses the actual sequence of Shabbat events but stays true to its spirit. It also celebrates both the Jewish and the female experience, suggesting that both offer the potential for human transformation. In addition to the central window, there are two side panels incorporating a prayer in English and Yiddish, based on a poem by a survivor from Theresienstadt: Heal those broken souls who have no peace and lead us all from darkness into light.