Nira Pereg

Abraham Abraham, Sarah Sarah

2012

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Not on display

Artist
Nira Pereg born 1969
Medium
Video, high definition, 2 projections, colour and sound (stereo)
Dimensions
Duration: 4min, 10sec
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Middle East and North Africa Acquisitions Committee 2018
Reference
T15064

Summary

Abraham Abraham, Sarah Sarah 2012 is a two-channel video installation that depicts the physical transition from a mosque to a synagogue and from a synagogue to a mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Israel. Hebron is the second holiest Jewish city after Jerusalem and is one of the four holy cities of Islam, making it a place contested and revered by both religions. It is believed to be the burial place of biblical patriarchal figures Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. Throughout the year, the Cave is segregated into areas of worship for Jews and Muslims, but ten times a year, as dictated by the calendars of the two religions, the entire space is converted into either a mosque or a synagogue. The Israeli army escorting movement between populations within the Cave acts as a microcosmic view of the State of Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Pereg’s installation shows a well-orchestrated interchange between the two communities, with scenes of overlap regarding use of a common space. Abraham Abraham shows Jews packing up their devotional items, such as Torahs, the Bimah (podium on which holy books rest while being read to the congregation), banners and art, placing them into cabinets for storage. Once empty, the space lacks reference to either religion and is populated only by armed soldiers. Doors are opened to let a flood of Muslim worshippers in, carrying brooms to sweep the place clean, as well as rugs and mats to line the floors.

Sarah Sarah shows the same process in reverse, with the rugs being carried out by Muslims, placed into storage in a pile, bookcases moved and barriers erected. The empty cave is once again only home to soldiers, who eventually open the doors to Jews bearing their devotional items. Cloth banners in Hebrew are strung up over the Arabic writing on the walls and chairs are placed in neat rows. Once the space is set up, the Jewish public comes through the doors, smiling and ready for prayer. Abraham Abraham and Sarah Sarah mirror each other in structure, editing and approach. The two videos, which last just under four and a half minutes, are displayed as large-scale projections on screens facing each other across a distance of ten metres. The work exists in an edition of seven with two artists’s proofs, of which Tate’s copy is the first.

The videos are accompanied by ambient sound, the soundtrack composed solely of the movement of objects. Chairs scrape across the floors, books knock against each other, metal gates are dragged to section off areas of the Cave. There are verbal murmurings, but no dialogue. Informed by the traditions of documentary filmmaking, Pereg reveals the elaborate construction of a mis-en-scène not normally witnessed by the public. She has explained that, through sound editing, she ‘attempts to transform the political acts into a musical’, highlighting ‘the absurdity and humanity of existence’ (quoted in ZKM Center for Art and Media 2008, accessed 3 May 2017). In this and earlier works, such as Sabbath 2008, Pereg’s camera records the chores and routines of everyday life, specifically within loaded political contexts.

By repeatedly visiting the spaces she films, Pereg has observed that her presence is ‘subsumed into the ritual itself’ (quoted in Israel Museum 2015, p.17). In Abraham Abraham, Sarah Sarah the viewer sees the work which surrounds religion, but never the act of worship itself. The installation questions the nature of political acts and of the spatial realities of occupation, but also might represent a form of tolerant co-existence through the sharing of a common space.

Abraham Abraham, Sarah Sarah is representative of Pereg’s practice in both medium and subject matter. Her work focuses on the current social and political conditions in her native country of Israel, particularly the co-existence of Jewish and Arab populations, and the commonalities and sharing of traditions between the two communities. Her videos illustrate the tensions but also moments of tolerance between different social and religious groups, functioning as portraits of a society in constant transition.

Further reading
‘Medium Religion, Interview with Nira Pereg’, video interview, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, 22 November 2008, http://zkm.de/en/media/video/medium-religion-interview-mit-nira-pereg, accessed 3 May 2017.
Timna Seligman, Nira Pereg: The Right to Clean, exhibition catalogue, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 2015.

Elizabeth Shoshany Anderson and Vassilis Oikonomopoulos
May 2017

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