By Ruby Russell
An exhibition showing this summer in Berlin entitled “Journey to Jerusalem: Artistic Positions Between Religion, Tradition and Taboo” brings together the work of ten artists who deal with the place of religion in contemporary life.
Spanning photography, painting, video, and installation, the works on show at the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien are often challenging. Stevie Hanley looks at religious taboos through obsessively intricate and often sinister ink drawings, while Nezaket Ekici’s portraits of a woman dressed in a fully-covering chador and petting a piglet are both comic and uncomfortable.
Zohar Fraiman, meanwhile, explores sexuality and the role of women in Orthodox Jewish society in paintings that are heavy with the threat of violence, but avoid the simplistic discourse of female victims and male perpetrators.
The exhibition’s curator, Stephane Bauer, says it aims to explore common themes in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as create a visual dialogue between them.
“In comparison with other shows that deal with this subject, we didn’t want to make blasphemous works, or put out that people are rejecting religion, but rather to deal with the conflicting roles that religion can play,” Bauer said in an interview.
While not all the artists in the show are religious, religion has been an influence on each of their lives, and on their artistic practice. Bauer points out that it is often difficult to identify the religious background of each artist.
“In fact the gap is not as big as when you follow the news or common discourse on the conflict between Islam and Western society,” Bauer said.
Fraiman uses motifs that recall scenes from the New Testament, while Ekici’s “Islamic Chapel” is a fragile structure built to resemble a Christian place of worship with versus from the Koran cut out of its paper walls and lit from within so that the surrounding space is brought alive with overlapping patterns of light and shadow and partly-revealed scripture.
Originating from as far afield as Turkey, Russia, the U.S., and Israel, all the artists in the show now live and work in Berlin. Bauer say that he was interested in investigating the role of religion in Germany’s capital, where the Christian faith was long suppressed under the communist regime, and which is still thought of as an “irreligious” city.
“There is a new aspect of religion in the city,” Bauer said. “The major discourse says there is an Islamic impulse due to immigration but that’s it. I wanted to show that there is more to it than this, and even in the arts there is a new way to approach this and maybe this way is less about being polarized between the different religions, but could go into an introspection into the role that religion plays in society today.”