Issue #10

  1. Searching for Temples

  2. When is Zion

  3. Making and Unmaking City Centers

  4. Mishkan Motherboard

  5. A Wondrous Thing to See

  6. Mechitza 7.1

  7. Transposing Diasporas

  8. The Fez as Storyteller

  9. Your Mouths Are the Ghosts of Money / Your Tongues Are the Tongues of Memory

  10. After Halle

When is Zion

Miryam bat Muhammad

Two clay goddess figurines sit side by side. Gold Al-Uzza earrings with semiprecious stones are cropped and placed behind each figurine's head like a halo. A cosmetic palette is by the figurines' feet overlapping one of each of their legs. The background at the top of the collage is black with golden stars framing an ancient, frayed textile. The background in the bottom of the composition is a pixelated textile.
Miryam bat Muhammad, In the Beginnings, Digital collage, November 2021.

In the Beginnings discusses ambiguous periods of time before monotheistic/Temple Judaism developed. I imagined a pair of god statues as same-gender lovers. There was a period of time that ended more recently than Tanakhic literature will admit, during which the average Canaanite/Israelite was polytheistic. The Temple during this period represented, to me, the consolidation of all of the world’s powerful forces and energies from multiple representations into one thing that could not, and cannot, be fully experienced or understood. I use this precedent to explore a historical human reality of migration, cultural exchange, and religious trajectories mentioned in the Tanakh, but of god-figur(in)es unnamed. As part of humanity’s great mosaic, we are one of many ‘beginnings’ and one of many peoples who are all people. The Temple was helpful for lessening feelings of fear or ambiguity regarding atonement and societal strife. Without it, we must do everything in our power to make the world a better place, becoming our own expiation. Part of that means accepting our global diversity and making peace with what we can’t change; as well as wrestling with any rules in our religion that could prevent us from treating a person with dignity or minimizing harm in the world.

Read more about the components of In the Beginnings here:

Cosmetic palette
Al-Uzza earrings
Seated woman
Goddess figurine
Goddess figurine
Ancient fabric

The background is an ornately, gold-embroidered, pink velvet Torah ark curtain. A pair of Purim dolls from Yemen hold a rusty-looking, metal, amuletic sword from Morocco, which points at an arch-shaped, lacy white cover for a circumcision pillow. On the cover are a pair of rectangular wooden boards which have yellowing paper plastered to them. The paper, also rectangular, has black Hebrew letters on it.
Miryam bat Muhammad, The Divine Home, Digital collage, November 2021.

The Divine Home is inspired by more current Jewish material cultures. Many Jews stayed around the Mediterranean basin and developed unique material traditions in conversation with one another’s communities. Women, whose domain was the home whether or not they also worked, were the producers of much of this culture. This collage centers women as stewards of the ‘shekhinah’ or holiness inherent in dwelling and creating space to nourish oneself and others. Women’s religiosity, including the amuletic cultures that they use(d) to protect their children, cannot be underestimated when examining the flourishing and survival of Jewish people. We all have the opportunity to create our own, gender-expansive, and ageless homes. I especially loved that some of these items are meant to be used temporarily, such as the Purim dolls from Sana’a, Yemen, which have a childlike appearance themselves.

Read more about the components of The Divine Home here:

Purim dolls
Amulet dagger
Cushion for the circumcision ceremony
Torah Ark Curtain
Board for learning the alphabet and the Bible

Two figures stand against a pink, quilted background. They are, respectively, wearing brightly colored, ikat-style dyed jommas, or Bukharian kaftans/robes. Poking out from beneath their robes are multiple vibrant, knit socks with floral patterns. The left hand figure's head is made from a silver, pear-shaped container for cosmetics. On the container's head is a beige and pink skullcap. The right hand figure wears ornate gold, purple, red, green, and pearled jewels on their forehead and around their neck. Between them stands a figure shrouded in a bright green faranji, or mourning cloak, which is triangular in shape. Above them is a white, gold-sequined, semi-circle shaped veil with a six pointed, gold embroidered star in its center. Text fills the veil across the top. The first line is: “Where do we go from here?” Then the phrases: “I don't know how to rebuild this. Did someone tell you how to rebuild this?" repeat over and over again to cover the veil horizontally in a beige font. Inside the star are the Hebrew letters spelling Sion/Tsion/Zion. On either side of the two outer figures are purple and gold hats, embroidered with floral motifs, with long trains.
Miryam bat Muhammad, The Future, Digital collage, November 2021.

The Future is a queer exploration of multiple diasporic Jewish pasts and futures. In so-called New York City, leading Sefaradi-Mizrahi activists for LGBTQ+ inclusion and rights find their roots in Bukharian and Syrian Jewish communities. I am thinking of these leaders while creating this piece. It speaks to Jewish dispersal routes and adaptable spirit. I am imagining the Jews of Mashhad, Iran, in particular. Many Jews from Central Asia, including Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, trace their ancestry to Mashhad, which was also home to a community of Jews living in secret while outwardly practicing Islam, in a proverbial religious ‘closet’. Jewish communities around the world are currently reckoning with growing numbers of LGBTQ+, converting, and politically left-leaning individuals existing in their communities. The women’s mourning cloak included in this piece, as the playful mix-and-match of gendered wear and symbology between the two bride(s)/grooms, all reference the anxieties of a changing world and the adaptable nature of traditions and peoples, as well as LGBTQ+ narratives of leaving their families to find our own futures.

Read more about the components of The Future here:

Kohl container
Prayer shawl bag
Marriage veil
Mourning cloak (faranji) and face veil (chashm-band)
Concealed hair covering (kallapüshak)
Men’s skullcap
Women’s scarves
Parkhane forehead ornament
Groom’s attire
The Jewelry of Jewish Women in Bukhara
Videos on various clothing and Bukharian Jewish dress

Born to Jewish and Muslim parents, Miryam Bat Muhammad is a multimedia artist and digital curator. Her work focuses on Jewish, Muslim, Sefarad-Mizrahi, Balkan, and LGBTQ+ identities.