Gitl Braun's The Holy Word Comes To Bruce Castle Museum

By Rose Shillito | 10 August 2007
Shows mass of small wooden blocks stuck together in twisted coil

Av Harahamim (Prayer for all the martyred). Courtesy the artist

A fascinating new exhibition that explores the rich history of Judaism and its ancient religious texts, and considers their profound significance for the world today, has opened in London.

The exhibition is part of Sacred on Location, the touring arm of the British Library’s groundbreaking exhibition Sacred: Discover What We Share, which brings together some of the world’s finest and most important religious manuscripts from the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.

This show, entitled The Holy Word, features the work of artist and orthodox Jewish mother of eight Gitl Braun and presents a very personal interpretation of Judaism – the original of the three Abrahamic faiths which was founded in the Middle East over 3,500 years ago. The exhibition runs at Bruce Castle Museum in Haringey, London, until August 27.

Shows ancient open book with edges of pages torn and tattered

A holy man's ethics book. Courtesy of the artist

The aim of both the main and touring exhibitions is to highlight the common ground between these three ancient faiths, which all consider Abraham to be an important prophet, and to a bring greater appreciation of this shared culture to as wide an audience as possible.

“We hope that Sacred on Location will inspire communities to come together to contemplate and share their beliefs, whilst also learning more about world religions,” said Roger Walshe, the British Library’s Head of Learning.

Gitl Braun works in the medium of traditional film photography to create powerful and evocative images that explore the very essence and meaning of the ancient Jewish faith. Some of the themes she investigates include the religious power and symbolism of holy texts and the influence that such artefacts continue to hold throughout the passage of time.

Shows puppet of man wrapped in an old linen shawl

When My Spirit Faints... (Psalm 142). Courtesy the artist

Although Gitl only graduated from Central St Martin’s School of Art last year, she has already established herself as an innovative, sensitive and thoughtful artist. At the age of 56, she brings an outstanding wealth of experience and depth of insight to her practice.

The daughter of Holocaust survivors Feivel and Iren Wallerstein, Gitl was brought up in an ultra orthodox quarter of Jerusalem until the family moved to London in 1973. Her devout religious upbringing according to the teachings of Kabbalah is a key influence and it is her personal relationship with Judaism that inspires Gitl’s most powerful work.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is the monumental Holocaust memorial Martyred Letters, a masterful photographic work featuring an installation of ancient hand-carved Hebrew wooden printing blocks that were once used in the creation of Holy manuscripts. The image was created and photographed on the anniversary of her late father’s death as a memorial to his martyred life as a Holocaust survivor and to the millions of Jews who lost their lives.

Shows old worn open book with black and white photograph lying on top

Prayer for the departed soul (with photo of perished family members). Courtesy the artist

The significance of the image is pretty clear. Here, Gitl has transformed a seemingly ordinary mountain of old, discarded wooden printing blocks into a treasure-trove of precious religious artefacts with each one symbolising the cherished soul of a Jew. Within the installation she has encoded the words ‘The beloved, the pleasant and the just’, which features in the special Sabbath prayer for the souls of the martyrs.

Other highlights in the exhibition include fragments of Hebrew prayer books, which have been set against dark backgrounds and presented like jewels in order to emphasise their treasured status. This series of works, which represent images of sacred texts that have been opened upon random pages, seeks to convey a range of unique religious experiences and profound spiritual truths.

The Sacred on Location touring programme of events will be running until November 18 2007. For further details, see the British Library's Sacred website.

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