Jewish, Muslim Performance Artists Create Rubbish Rites


Can trash be treasure?  At Neve Schechter in Tel Aviv, two performance artists, one Jewish and one Muslim, explore  rituals that reinfuse tattered books with an aura of holiness. In spring, the season of renewal, find out how they are bringing new life to old discarded objects.

Premiering at the beginning of April, the Schechter Gallery is proud to present the world premiere of TBQ الكتب المقدسة גניזה trilogy by international artists Shahar Marcus and Nezaket Ekici. Three video works filmed in Ben Shemen, Istanbul and Rome will be screened alongside the exhibition. The works deal with purity, impurity and a geniza of books in Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. This exhibition was created from research examining how different cultures and religions relate to holy books. The question that arises from this work is whether a holy book can lose its sanctity and how can such sanctity be restored?

Read more about the exhibit from Shira Friedman, curator:

In the trilogy TBQ (Torah, Quran, and Bible), Shahar Marcus and Nezaket Ekici perform rituals intended to reinfuse sacred books that have grown old and tattered with an aura of holiness. The ceremonies they enact are reminiscent of religious ceremonies while differing from them significantly, since the artists attend to religious beliefs while offering their personal interpretation of them. According to both Judaism and Islam, the sacred texts capture God’s own words – as transmitted verbatim to Moses (in Judaism) and to Muhammad (in Islam). The books themselves are thus viewed as sacred; they must be treated with respect, and cannot simply be discarded. In Judaism, the Halakhic solution for books that have fallen out of use is the geniza – the respectful burial of sacred texts. In Islam, there is a range of solutions for disposing of ragged books, and there is no agreement among the sages concerning one preferred solution. One of these methods, which is identical to the Jewish geniza, is burial in the ground; additional options including sinking the books in water, or tearing and burning them.

The Christian sacred texts – the Bible and the New Testament – are referred to as the Biblia. The New Testament was written by different authors, who believed they were receiving divine inspiration. The Christians view the Bible as a sacred text, yet do not regard its contents as the verbatim words of God. There is thus no prohibition on discarding old Bibles, although it is considered preferable to donate them.

The “sacred ceremonies” performed by the two artists unfold in Israel, Istanbul and Rome. The opening scene of Geniza takes place in the Ben Shemen Forest, in a contemporary, improvised cave that serves to house discarded books. The volumes lying about at the opening of the cave do not accord with the original purpose of the geniza – the respectable burial of old books. The actions of gathering, cleaning, and rebinding the books, and finally reading from them out loud, restores them to use, as they form a library in the midst of the forest.

The video work The Sea of Life takes place at dusk in a crowded area of Istanbul. Marcus and Ekici perform a public ceremony during which they walk through the city carrying containers filled with volumes of the Quran. Later, they pour water from the sea onto the open books. The now sanctified water streaming from the books is carefully gathered into goblets, and the artists redistribute it in the world by returning the water from the goblets to the river.

judaism and islam

In the third ceremony, sacred Christian texts are extricated from recycling bins, and serve as holy relics during a pilgrimage that takes place on outdoor steps in Rome. The artists reconstruct various customs associated with holy pilgrimages, such as ascending stairs on one’s knees and carrying a mirror on one’s back during the tormenting ascent. The ancient books are now the focus of the pilgrimage. They are opened, cleaned, and surrounded by clouds of holy incense.

Ekici and Marcus began collaborating in 2012, and their joint projects center on exploring extreme states involving the human body. In the trilogy TBQ, they explore a deep emotional aspect of their respective religions – Judaism in the case of Marcus, and Islam in the case of Ekici, who is married to a Christian – and create an amalgam of religious and artistic practices.