Monday, March 16, 2009

My Body is Political

This was my submission to a Jewish-Muslim Interfaith art and music dialogue event. It's hard to describe what the event was exactly supposed to be like, but Jews and Muslims get together and watch short films about being Jewish or Muslim, listen to some music inspired by common heritage, have some conversations, etc. This time they added an art show, so I submitted, the prompt was "your Jewish or Muslim identity," basically.

So I made this mandala (I am into mandalas lately, not interpreting them but making them, after researching mandalas for a class assignment a few weeks ago). It took me a couple of days, it's pretty large and I made it with only pen and filled in some of the spaces with marker because that would have been crazy to fill it in with pen - usually when I make smaller mandalas like this I only use pen. I wrote something about mandalas being the universal symbol of wholeness and completion, and how mine is growing and being shaped by experience.

I then put it on display at the interfaith dialogue with markers and a sign that encouraged people to participate in my Jewish identity, since I am influenced by people I meet and my experiences.

It was interesting to watch people decide whether or not to make a mark.

But then some people got really into it. There was a pretty steady stream of people adding to my work throughout the evening.

This girl spent the most time working on it, she was very serious about it.

If you step back and look at it, it really is quite beautiful. This is what it looked like at the end of the night (or, rather, when I decided to leave, I just couldn't stay any longer).

But then, look closer:


That person may as well have written "KIKE" on it.

So much for peaceful interfaith dialogue.

Someone responded to it on my work by writing "Love" and "Tolerance" on different areas. Someone else then saw my work as a political forum and made some references to gay rights.

And the thing that really gets me is that they put it inside a hamsa, which is a shared symbol by many middle eastern cultures including Judaism and Islam, although I wonder if the person who wrote that knew that.

It just goes to show you that art brings out the truth. Nobody would have said that out loud at the dialogue, but it was there, and it came out the instant someone was allowed to make art about it. This was the first example of someone writing text on my piece, the first time someone felt their own individuality was more important than contributing to my identity, and the first person to make a violent statement against me - on my own art.

This is how I am seen. My very presence is political. I am Jewish, therefore I am an oppressor, therefore I am racist, therefore I have some kind of power. It was a personal message to me as a Jew. I get that it was a public stunt because the ability to write was there, but this was a personal artwork about me and my Jewish identity. Not about someone else's political agenda.

I tried to go home and do other work but I just couldn't. So I made some response art (yay art therapy grad student nerd). I worked for 20 minutes while listening to music and then wrote about it:

I bared myself, made vulnerable
So quickly
So easily
So thoughtlessly.
Using me for your own purpose.
It was never about our relationship, only quick satisfaction for you.
You didn't even know me and felt free to use me.
Your presence is a sham.
Go home.
I don't have to justify myself to you,
Nameless viewer.
No wonder things are the way they are.


Daphna said...

Wow, that's horrible and infuriating. I can't believe someone abused your invitation to add to your art like that.

I hope it doesn't give you a bad feeling about the rest of it, cause the idea is very cool and it came out beautiful. It's hard though, not to take it personally, I know. Especially when it's so unexpected and in a place that you otherwise enjoy. I'm just sorry it happened.

JewishGal said...

I love interactive art, I guess I just need to be more aware of what kinds of things might come out and expect them. I'm kind of baffled as to why I didn't expect this, actually. Maybe I had higher expectations haha.

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