Monday, February 21, 2011

Alphabets and the Middle East

The current gripping situation in the Middle East reflects a focal point of my work for a long time, Israel and Palestine. I am squarely in the “progressive” contingent here, but I correspond with a “settler” (who does not, of course, use that term), because I really want to find out the truth, get an accurate picture, which I’m not sure we get, either one of us. My correspondent is not altering my position so much as whetting my appetite for facts, for a real assessment of the myriad events and policy enforcement decisions that I hear about from “my” side. I’m now reading “his” side, too, and I hope he reads what I send him. I want a more balanced view of things, but mostly, of course, I want peace, and a just society in Israel. In this piece, Model for a Gazebo, Hebrew and Arabic newspaper, (2005), there is a tentative meeting of the two sides. (One image to the side here is Model for Two Houses, in Yiddish and Polish, speaking really about Polish people who hid Jews during WWII.)

In my blog of January 16, I talked about the importance that I place on language. Actually my thoughts are more basic than that, as I have long been interested in the letters themselves, of several alphabets that are known, and one that I made up. My very first sculpture was called Note of the New Alphabet, sensing the parallel rhythm in music and in speech, a sort of unvoiced form of speaking. At that time I was making up letters of a mysterious alphabet and writing stories in it. Somehow I could follow the story, without verbalizing, even bursting into laughter from time to time!

I also spoke about shelter in the January 16 blog. The word “House” for me has many meanings: sanctuary, cloister, shelter, home, private place. These ideas, writing/alphabets/language and shelter/house/room/space, are the basics on which I build sculptures or make works on paper. It all came together in my MFA thesis presentation  built entirely of elements representing the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet, .  

House: בּיּתּ,   cherrywood, poplar, cedar, pine, 20' x 17' x 8'h (2002).
Phoenician was the first real alphabet, with 22 letters, such that words were composed of letters representing sounds, rather than glyphs representing objects. Early on, though, most of the letters also retained a meaning as a symbol. Phoenician "beth", the second letter, originally did represent "house", and I find that very interesting, as "beyt" in Hebrew also symbolized "house". The modern word for house, bayit, (“by-it”) is spelled the same way as is the letter when you find it in the dictionary, בּיּתּ. This gave the title of my thesis an added dimension. Arabic also derived from the Phoenician, and the second letter, ba, ب‎ , has a similar history: "house" in Arabic is also "bayit".

                                           Shelter 1                   Shelter 2

In these drawings, shelters/vessels are stacked on a new symbol, a “house” made of the Phoenician, Hebrew,and Arabic second letters: beth, beyt, ba. They are colored pencil on black board, 20" x 15"

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