The four prints are large, roughly two feet by two feet,
exquisitely-detailed. The first, "Afghanistan,"
arches and calligraphic detail; the second, "
lush riverbanks and distant Mount Ararat through a kind of round
windowpane. The third ("Bangladesh") features lotus blossoms, tigers, masks; the
evokes its story with faces, dancing figures, a mandala of color.
They are the first four in a series of twenty-five
proposed pieces exploring genocide, using the text of the
kaddish yatom (the mourner's kaddish, Jewish prayer for the
dead) as a starting-point. The series is by
Amy Fagin, and it's called
Beyond Genocide: illuminations for our era.
And indeed, each includes lines from the kaddish, written in
classic Hebrew calligraphy. (Fagin has spent decades
ketubot, and her mastery of Hebrew is
But the Armenian print also features swirling lines in Armenian;
the print focusing on Bangladesh (and the violence that mars Indian/Pakistani history) offers script which looks to me like Hindi; the Cambodia
print offers text in what I assume is Khmer. Fagin learned the
intricacies of three new alphabets in order to make these pieces
which simultaneously honor the dead and call us to engage with the
living. She writes:
Each illumination is a visual story which represents a
culture or civilization which has been threatened or extinguished
by the violence of genocide....These penetrating illuminations
recognize the greatest
achievements of humankind and our most violent crimes. They help
the viewer to see a personal and individual reflection of our
common legacy of genocide. They inspire us to look deeper into the
lessons of our past so that we can free ourselves from perpetrating
this massive violence upon one another in the present.
As the globe draws closer to true understanding of our inter-being,
we recognize that each individual desires to live in peace, without
fear of domination, neglect, or annihilation. Each one of us can
live with dignity and honor by cultivating genuine appreciation for
each other, respect and awe for the astounding beauty and
complexity of the world we live in.
Limited-edition prints of Fagin's work are on display at Congregation
Beth Israel for the next four weeks; she will speak
about them tonight, after services (service at 7pm; talk around
Their installation was timed to coincide with Judaism's communal
day of mourning, Tisha b'Av, which begins tomorrow night at sundown
as soon as Shabbat ends (and which I
blogged about earlier this
The rabbis teach that Tisha b'Av can be seen as a counterpart to
Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, we stand before God as individuals,
cementing our own process of teshuvah (re/turning or
repentance) in order to repair the personal distance we may feel
between ourselves and our Source. But before we can do that
as individuals, we need to do it as a community, and Tisha b'Av
offers the opportunity to stand before God as a group and
mourn the loss of connection-with-God which the fall of the Temple
For me, our disconnect with God is manifest in the many ways that
we harm each other. And the more violence we create, the more
entrenched we become in our separateness from our Source -- and
the harder it becomes to remember that things could be, should be,
any different. There is no purer or more powerful sign of that
disconnect than the kinds of genocide Fagin chronicles and
memorializes in her artwork.
If you are near western Massachusetts, or
will come here in the coming month, stop in and spend a while
at these exquisite and powerful pieces of art...and regardless of
where you are geographically, I hope you will join me in taking
Tisha b'Av as an opportunity to mourn not only the past suffering
of the Jewish people, but also the suffering of everyone wounded
by the inhuman violence of genocide, through history and now. May we bring an end to genocide, soon and in our days.
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