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RITUALS AND THE DOCILE BODY Dafna Rehavia is an Israeli born feminist, activist artist. She explores the docile body as the site of specific behaviors that she defines as rituals. Her works symbolize the ways authoritative discourses trap our bodies. The artist would like to shed light on how, through the use of our own bodies, we all practice and perform within “natural” accepted cultural, religious and political acts and habits. Rituals and the Docile Body is an exhibition that has three bodies of work that deal with women’s experience: Menstrual Wedding Dress, Con-Stricted, and De-Constructed. The exhibition invites viewers to explore the ways women’s bodies are performed within different cultural, religious and political discourses.


A SOCIAL CONTROL: TEXTUAL WINDOWS Taxis is the RITUAL Greek word for Ritual. R ual is a se quence of itactivities in ing gestu volvres, expe riences, w and objec ords ts. The me aning of ritu , order, orga al is nization. T he Greek was espe word cially emp loyed in re to the mili lation tary, for e xample, th ganization e orof comba t forces. the direct It analogue is of “expedit ion.”

SS G DRE nN I D D of me L WE TRUA res the idea tative MENS lo exp presen ate k r re o l w a u cre This a rit n as bility to gions li struatio n’s unique a re e other of wom udaism and on women’s J forced cycle. life. In ns are e menstrual o ti ic tr and s th re shame ing during f o s ie s d g u o b D r elin ises fe and impurity. ands ra is h T m s dirtines m de implies tion, Judais sband and ua a hu rify menstr etween e wife can pu . b e c n th ta ti l is a ti d in on un contam iddah) wife (n f her body’s o herself

THE NIDDAH STATUS A woman enters the niddah status when she experiences menstruation. During niddah she needs to keep distance from her husband and he must keep distance from her because she is considered to be impure, dirty, and thus needs to distance herself.

EATING TOGETHER When a couple eats together during niddah they do not eat or drink from the same plate or cup. They agree on a private signal that reminds them of the niddah status. AVOIDANCE OF TOUCH A couple may not touch each other during the time the wife is in niddah. Furthermore, there are additional prohibitions to prevent even the possibility of touching, such as passing objects from hand to hand. BED HABITS When the wife is niddah, the couple may not sleep in the same bed even if they are clothed, use different blankets, and do not touch.

The rules RULEthat cons titute ritua GOVERNED AC and spirit TIVITIES ls are ofte : they cho n rela reograph, soul. Hen they direc ted to the moveme ce, rituals t, a nts can impo behavior se form o nd they impose bo of the human body under co n undaries n h tr uman mo ol. Ritualthat are a on the bo vement a rules are uthoritativ dy n e c d o for the co , man beha m in m d u o n in al ru g so, brin mmunity. vior unde g Rituals are les; they express r the direc tion, auth the norm therefore ority, and s a to ol for control of the comm bringing huunal institu tion.

4 APPROPRIATE DRESS & BEHAVIOR A woman who is in niddah should dress modestly in her husband's presence, since he is not permitted to look at the parts of her body (that are covered anyway). But he may gaze at her face, or other areas that are normally exposed, even if this gives him pleasure.

CONSTRICTED This work attempts to understand women’s docile bodies under certain Islamic laws. During times of prayer women are not allowed to be present with men. It is believed that women are a distraction to men of quiet mindfulness and so women must distance themselves and hide their bodies, in certain cases their entire bodies are hidden except for their eyes.

PRESENT-ABSENT: DECONSTRUCTED This work examines the use of the human body for the death rituals of war and terror. Docile bodies are also part of the ease with which human bodies are sacrificed by nationalist political leaders. In this work I use eight pieces of cardboard, nails and stitches portraying different detached body parts. The separate torn pieces represent the docile bodies torn apart as a result of obeying orders and following destructive beliefs.

WAR AND DEATH RITUALS Wars turned into quick and aggressive solutions for divisions and the enforcement of the will of one side on that of the other. Wars of destruction and death are ancient, thousand-year-old, strategies that repeat themselves as never-ending and never-changing rituals. Only the technology changes, while the essential ritual dance remains the same. These are rituals that tear our humanity to shreds. These are sacrificial rituals for belief and ideology.

TRANSITIONAL RITUALS Signify a transition from one status to another. A transition from child to adult, from bachelorhood to marriage, from private to public, from ordinary citizen to military man‌

RELIGIOUS LS NAL RITUA TRANSITIO rough th ious transition Signify a relig sion, ci aptism, circum moactions like b re ce marriage als barmitzvah, itu R h bathing. d an ny and mikve ns o orical traditi nio preserve hist at er ongoing gen preserve the munity. t to the com en itm m m co al

RAPE AS A MANHOOD RITUAL Historically, men were identified as hunters and warriors. Today, too, many men are equipped with weapons and trained to conquer, to invade enemy territory, and to bring the enemy to surrender.


THINKING OF THE BODY THROUGH MATERIALITY IN THE ARTWORKS OF DAFNA REHAVIA The materiality of the body, its vulnerability and sensitivity, is ever present in the works of Dafna Rehavia. From body parts painted on cardboard and an empty chair in front, to medical IVs filled with objects and buried in the dirt on the floor, to oval shaped clay pieces violently pierced by sticks. The materials used relate directly to the body and its experiences. The experiences of the body are inseparable from one’s feelings, sense of self, and identity. Through an emphasis on the body’s connection to the emotional, the works of Dafna Rehavia bring together two aspects of experience that usually remain separate; one that expresses the vulnerability of the body towards life itself, the inevitability of time, growing old, and eventual death. The other is of imposed, violent social and cultural situations and their shaping of the human body. Central to both experiences, the materials that make up the artworks are treated as the body, in consideration of the feeling, thinking person inside of it and as an organic object, an

actual material that makes part of the world in the simplest sense. In Present Absence an empty chair is placed in front of a wall displaying dispersed, cardboard pieces cut into different shapes implying body parts, painted, nailed, and sewn. As its name implies, the artwork makes absence into its own entity, invisibly occupying the chair and filling it with emptiness. The cardboard pieces imply a fragmented body, creating the desire for a body intact. Fragmented body parts made of cardboard, sure to disappear and perishable by nature of a material that is like the body, easily shaped by its surroundings and interactions. Present Absence is an artwork that embodies the natural processes of life while portraying loss- loss of the self, loss of the other, and the lack of correlation between the dying body and its living inhabitant.


In existential literature, this experience has often been addressed, such as in Erich Fromm’s book The Art of Loving where a long passage expresses this sentiment: Man is gifted with reason; he is life being aware of itself; he has awareness of himself, of his fellow man, of his past, and of the

6 possibilities of his future. This awareness of himself as a separate entity, the awareness of his own short life span, of the fact that without his will he is born and against his will he dies, that he will die before those whom he loves, or they before him, the awareness of his aloneness and separateness, of his helplessness before the forces of nature and of society, all this makes his separate, disunited existence an unbearable prison. He would become insane could he not liberate himself from this prison and reach out, unite himself in some form or other with men, with the world outside. According to Fromm, the isolation and existential anxiety implied in “life aware of itself,” is overcome through constructions that allow to reach beyond the self and to feel united with others. Love, culture, religion, and art all serve this function. Fromm focuses on love, and argues that the modern experience of being ‘in love’ is provoked by capitalism and that love should instead be engaged with as an art. In this way he politicizes love, yet ‘forgets’ to politicize gender. In the very beautiful quote above one sees that existential anxiety and the facing of mortality is addressed as a male experience that implies and encompasses within it a silent female, who cannot speak of anyone but herself, as Simone de Beauvoir famously noted. In this way it becomes clear that cultural violence can be present in experiences and phenomena that appear disconnected from the political. Looked at in this light, the fragmentation of the body which appears in Present Absence could also be seen as gendered. It could be seen as referring not only to a human experience of aging and loss but also to the objectification of the female body as a known strategy for the dehu-

manization of women. Other works that similarly engage with the body and its relation to its own fate are Every Person has a Name and First Aid. These works articulate a more clear connection between the body and cultural violence, the former through a sculptural depiction of an abstract mass grave, insinuating genocide, and the latter through IV cords rapped in newspaper and buried in the dirt on the ground resembling umbilical cords.


The ‘umbilical cords’ of First Aid connect between IV bags filled with objects, among which an Israeli passport is found, to dirt, making apparent how national identity is understood as natural, as though embedded in the body itself, in the blood that flows from mother to child and is routed in the earth of a certain place. Like Present Absence, these works engage with mortality and seem to give subtle clues to a connection and occupation with women’s experiences through the body. The body and its connection to gender and to women’s experiences in Dafna’s works is a theme in itself, beyond its implication in her artworks that deal with the body existentially. The work Menstrual Wedding Dress

7 is an elaborate, wedding dress sown using white, menstrual pads. The pads are unnoticeable from a distance and become apparent only upon close examination and in light of the pad hung on the wall beside the dress. The wedding dress appears frozen and hardened by its material, giving an imposed and unnatural feel to another ritual, just like in First Aid, that has been naturalized while suppressing, shaping, constricting, and imposing upon women’s actual experiences of themselves and their bodies. A ritual in which what is natural and human is seen as embarrassing and dirty, covered by the white of a wedding dress symbolizing virginity and ‘purity.’ While conveying a critical tone, the frozen material addresses an underlying experience and a feeling otherwise invisible. Despite a clearly critical stance that comes from the artist’s background as a researcher and an academic, the artworks do not necessarily portray an explicit critique but rather show an experience of violencehow it feels to be the person who is there inside their body. In this sense the artworks do what art does best, convey a feeling that is missing from the words used to tell a story or form a straightforward analysis. And by acting as the body, the usage of materials in the artworks evokes an emotional reaction from the viewer otherwise untouched, either in the form of identification or disgust. Constricted displays an Islamic prayer rug hung on the wall with a woman’s eyes in the center of it as the rest of her face is covered with a veil that leads down to the floor where another prayer rug is placed and next to it are golden men’s shoes. This piece addresses repetitive religious conventions of dress and prayer in an Islamic tradition; another form of ritual. Women are required to be covered from head to toe with a

Burka, as though absent from public spaces and identity-less, excused through prayer to a god that supposedly condones it. Here the body of a woman is suggested through the delicate see-through veil that hangs to the ground while the man’s body is absent- only his empty golden shoes are visible. The absence of the man and the centrality of the figure of the woman reverses roles, but also conveys the experience of inhabiting a burka making a woman not only identity-less and seemingly absent from the public and social places in which she is present but also marked as the property of her father or husband in this way. In this piece as well, a criticism is present yet the main part is played by the materials themselves; the prayer rug that holds heavy the emptiness of the golden shoes beside it, the thin cloth that drips down from the wall, the recurrent figure of the cheetah.


Cutting is an artwork in which the material acts as the body in order to reveal violence in a direct way. The power of art as a medium that can make one identify, experience, and feel, is apparent here as the piece

8 refers to the ritual of female genital mutilation also known female circumcision. Female circumcision is a ritual practiced by different groups in various African and Middle Eastern countries in which a woman’s genitals and particularly her clitoris is removed and in extreme cases her vagina is sewn shut. Much like the whiteness of the dress and the ritual of marriage itself, this practice is meant to control female sexuality for the sake of ‘purity’, cleanliness, and other feminine ideals that are based on the idea that female sexuality is a threat for her submission to men. Cutting is a series of sculptures made of oval-shaped, rusty looking clay and metal pieces in which sticks have been violently inserted and thread is sewn over. The pieces are abstract and do not clearly refer to their theme, yet the insinuation of a female genitals is strongly present, creating some uncertainty on the part of the viewer as to what is being witnessed. The apparent feel of decay and of pain forces the viewer into a full emotional experience that begins from lack of recognition to intimate identification. Menstrual Wedding Dress, Constricted, and Cutting make part of a greater theme that deals with experiences of women in Dafna’s works. Following artworks that deal with the body in an existential way, these works show the many facets and connections that women’s experiences share with the existential through the body as object. The dichotomy between the inside and the outside, the living person inside and the dying person on the outside has been endlessly noted throughout in literature, poetry, art, and philosophy and comes to light here in another way. The many ways in which rituals and social conventions of various sorts have implemented oppressive attitudes and violent acts towards the female body show that body as object is also the person inside

as possession. It shows the body’s intimate connection to emotionality and identity through the attempt to limit the richness and freedom of an independent inner world by hurting the body, specifically in ways that carry such great social meaning.


The artworks of Dafna Rehavia focus on the body through materiality and experience, emphasizing the vulnerability of the person in their interactions with the world in all of its capacities; as people facing an inevitable fate, and as people living in cultural structures that shape our experiences through our bodies. As an artist, Dafna Rehavia deals with issues that are central and important to life rather than employing art as aesthetics, her artworks act as bodies conveying experiences that enable identification through the viewer’s visceral reactions.


CREDITS Rituals and the Docile Body is an exhibition at Gallery CA, in Baltimore, MD. GALLERY CA is a contemporary arts space devoted to showcasing local, regional, national and international artists. The gallery also serves as an agent for community engagement by offering regular programming and creating sustainable partnerships with local arts institutions and community organizations. Gallery CA is located on the ground floor of the City Arts building, which houses 69 artist live/work spaces. TAYA HANAUER is er, writer and artist Amsterdam and


researchbased in Tel-Aviv.

This publication was produced by Press Press in September 2015 and was designed by Kimi Hanauer. PRESS PRESS is an interdisciplinary publishing initiative based in Baltimore City. Through publishing, pop-up print shops, events, and distribution of print media we build open, active platforms of social engagement which democratize the practice of and engagement with art. We believe artwork exists within experience. This includes the integration of fabricated and naturally occurring forms of engagement, relationships, objects, events and situations which, together, exist as meaningful life experiences or occurrences.

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Rituals and the Docile Body  

Rituals and the Docile Body