I am honored to be showing at this coming December's exhibition sponsored by the Jewish Art Salon. The show is titled ON THE CONSEQUENCES OF HATE SPEECH, and it will on view from December 5 to January 18, 2019 at the Manny Cantor Center, NYC. Further details are available here. Commentary below.
“(Kafir I)” and “(Kafir II)” are parts of a series of works exploring the dynamics of language in belief systems. The word “Kafir” is the Arabic word for “unbeliever,” often translated as “infidel”, (from the root K-F-R "to cover”). Islamic traders used this epithet to denote the Sub-Saharan (non-Muslim) Africans they engaged and exchanged with. It was later picked up by white Afrikaners and became the South African N-word. It is a word of scorn, a word of hate, but also a word about belief.
I am a tourist here. A tourist trapped in a local’s body, engaging languages and experiences I do not know, as well as some that I do. I ask for forgiveness rather than permission. I am, after all, the goyest cracker on the platter, or so it would seem. But the contradictions and intersections of heritage, of race, the gravity and violence and folly of identity, spare no one.
But it is as a person of faith—as a skeptical person of faith—that I have been torn and fascinated by the ways that belief undermines faith for individuals, and the ways belief has become a central destructive force of our time. Belief in tribal / racial supremacy, belief in religious exclusivism, un-belief in science and climate change, belief in conspiracy theories, belief in (more or less) charismatic leaders who promise the world, just rendered upside down. Conspiracy theories in particular preoccupy me. They have become a fixation, though not in the usual ways. Belief is inherently a creative act. And it’s quite possible that in todays Conspiracy Industrial Carnival we’re seeing the birth pangs of a new religion, the world’s first digitally mediated one. It is chaotic and protean still, but it is starting to serve some of the basic functions of traditional religions, of identity and community building, of sorting the universe out, of explaining the world. And, strikingly, forms of fundamentalism have emerged already. Resistance to any lines of questioning which undermine the accepted narrative, hostility to any who offer these questions, dehumanizing those who disagree (we are sheep led by shape-shifting alien reptiods), utter lack of humor, and, most insidiously, about fundamentalism of any sort, is the systematic suffocation of curiosity that fundamentalism expresses.
I indulge a wide variety of ways for people to engage the world, mediated through belief or not. But the destructive nature of most of these conspiracy beliefs, amplified today by turbocharged media, with their endgame of despair; there is nothing good in them. The traction they have in the neo-fascist movements in the West is only matched by their tenacity in the Islamic world.
But there is also a sense that these properties are inherent to humanity, that they are part of a larger pattern of life in a competitive evolutionary context. Humans are built to other others, to see patterns where none exist, and to willingly blind ourselves to the uncomfortable and inconvenient. We are at a moment when the question of how and whether we can transcend these instincts is a living and urgent one. Is it a question of suppressing or burying this impulse (K-F-R: “to cover”)? Of rising above our human nature? Or is it a matter of finding ways to engage, acknowledge, and redeem these faculties, of blessing our human / animal nature? Of reclaiming every epithet, rendering them upside down and transparent and somehow still salient. We are all Kafir. 12/3/18
Fabricated for ceramic artist Bruce Sherman, incorporating ceramic slabs into the table tops.
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