January 1, 2021

Dirty Laundry

By Adi Liraz

Editor’s Intro 

Adi Liraz’s “Dirty Laundry” stitches together elements of Romaniote craft and textile traditions, Jewish ritual and poetry, family history and personal experience, in a creative exploration of love, loss, desire, betrayal, and the struggle for acknowledgment and independence. Embedded within this work is the mythical image of marital union as it is dynamically employed in Jewish lore and ritual. This trope appears (in different forms) on the holidays of Shavuot, commemorating the revelation of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, and Simchat Torah, the completion and beginning of the annual Torah reading cycle. On Shavuot, the Torah is imagined as a ketubah, or wedding contract, establishing the covenant between God (the groom) and the Jewish people (the bride). Alternatively, on Simchat Torah, the Jewish people are the groom and the Torah is the bride. Traditionally, the person called up to the Torah on Simchat Torah for the first reading of the new cycle is called the Chatan Berieshit, the bridegroom of Bereishit, the first word and portion of the Torah. 

The Romaniote community had a particularly beautiful way of entering into and personalizing this symbolism. On the holiday of Simchat Torah, women in the community donated their wedding dresses, which were then creatively repurposed to cover the Torah scrolls as they were placed into the arms of the “bridegrooms” in the synagogue. In this simple gesture, numerous boundaries are blurred—text and body, the collective and the individual, the mythic and the historical, the spiritual and the sexual; the list goes on. 

These ritual motifs provide an essential backdrop for the surprising—and potentially uncomfortable—surface of Adi Liraz’s “Dirty Laundry,” which courageously challenges the community, Torah, and even G-d to accept and value her as she truly is, in all of her fullness. This challenge resonates for each of us: we all come with our own soiled garments. Shadows, skeletons, shame, and secrets fill all of our proverbial closets, haunting us and holding us back from full honesty and liberating transparency—if only with ourselves. But it’s within our selves where such revelatory realignment must ultimately begin.

If dirty laundry is never “aired”, it doesn’t just go away, it continues to crowd and stink up the cupboards of our lives, impinging on our ability to take responsibility for our own self-development and to support others in need. Adi Liraz has extended to us an incredible invitation with this work: to witness one in the process of opening, owning, clearing, and cleansing themselves in order to more truly love and be loved.


Dedication

This underwear 
Is stained with menstrual blood
Pomegranate and coffee
From Rosh Hashana
Ha´TaShAaT / 5780
Ioannina
and Berlin

To commemorate significant events in the Romaniote community—Brit Milah, Bar Mitzvah, weddings, or funerals—community members would donate artifacts to the synagogue, as a remembrance of the event and as lucky charms. Those artifacts included embroidered textiles which were used as cushion covers or Parochets (Torah Ark curtains), and silver ornaments that were hung around the Torah Ark. It was common for a dedication—mentioning the occasion, the names of the people involved, the date, and the location—to be either embroidered or inscribed on the artifacts.1

Rose of Ioannina

Though this rose motif originated in the court of the Muslim Ottoman Sultan, the rose of Ioannina became a local symbol, and can be also found on different Christian and Jewish garments, religious paraphernalia, and domestic objects.2 Because roses grow all over Ioannina, the flower is believed by some people to have been one of the unofficial symbols of the city.

Protective Eye

The protective eye—a sigil seen often around southern Europe, north Africa and the Middle East—is most commonly used as a protective talisman against the “evil eye.” I inherited from my maternal ancestors a cushion cover that used to belong to my great-great grandmother, Annetta Levi, and was part of her dowry. In the middle of the cushion cover is one such “eye,” and in the middle of it, the initials “AL”—also the initials of my name. I have adopted this eye as a personalized family sigil.3

Botanical Pattern

Plant motifs were very common throughout the Muslim world, and especially in the Ottoman court, where workshops of craftspeople developed design patterns and embroidery techniques. Traditionally, men worked in the workshops while women worked in domestic environments, but both used similar motifs in their textiles and crafts. The particular iteration I embroidered on the back of the underwear is taken from a cushion cover created in Ioannina at the beginning of the 19th century. Cushion covers were often used in the synagogue Kahal Kadosh Yashan during the holiday of Shavuot, and at Simchat Torah.4

Mourning Prayer

“I Heard the Daughter of Zion Mourning”

This lament originated in Sepharadi custom, but Shmuel David Luzzetto (ShaDaL), who lived in Italy in the first half of the 19th century, testified that the B’nai Roma also recited it in their prayers. According to ShaDaL, the lament was composed either by the daughter of Rabbi and poet Yehuda Halevi or the daughter of Rabbi Levi Ibn Eltban, who was also a poet. He concluded this when he discovered that the poem was signed with an acrostic: “Bat Halevi Hazaki.”

“And indeed,” writes ShaDaL, “the language of this lament is similar to the language of Rabbi Yehuda Halevi.” 

The lament mourns the destruction of the Temple (Khurban), and prays for the building of a new temple.

from: Jewish Women´s Prayers Throughout the Ages
Aliza Lavie
2005
Publisher: Miskal – Yediot Aharonot Books and Chemed Books

Artist Statement

I always hear stories about men who cheated: when “their” women find out, no one believes them. These women are often dismissed as crazy, unstable, unreliable. And when they attempt to move on to their next relationship, they’re judged both for taking a new partner and for their previous partner’s infidelity. They are thus outcast and marked.

I grew up hearing such stories about how it used to be for my grandmother “back then,” “before feminism.” Only after having similar experiences myself did I realize that little has changed.

A relative of mine asked me a while ago why am I so passionate about “hanging out our dirty laundry for all to see.” I’d like to answer that I’m tired of keeping secrets. I’m tired of accepting the roles forced on so many women who look for a way out. 

With this work, I am reclaiming myself in all my honesty, pain, joy, strength, love, and independence by presenting to you my dirty laundry.

I started working on this underwear a year and a half ago, in Ioannina, on the evening of the Jewish new year. I began by staining it with coffee and pomegranate juice during my performance “Mother Tongues.” Later, I bled on it when I had my period, and then embroidered the word נואפת / Noefet / adulteress on it. 

I then embroidered the rose of Ioannina: a symbol I saw on the פרוכת / Parochet / curtain covering the Torah Ark of the Kahal Kadosh Yashan synagogue in Ioannina; a symbol which is also tattooed on my shoulders. I embroidered this rose in a typical Ottoman technique that was used to embroider the community’s Parochet, as well as traditional wedding dresses. In this technique, the golden thread is held in place by a cotton thread, not embroidered directly into the fabric. A piece of cardboard is inserted to lift the embroidery from the backdrop and give it some volume.

Then I embroidered the protective eye, which is also a very common symbol in the areas that used to be under the Ottoman empire. This one carries the initials of my great-great-grandmother, Annetta Levi; AL are also my initials, and I feel them to be protecting me. In the back of the underwear, I embroidered a botanical pattern that I found in the archive of the Jewish Museum of Greece in Athens. It is from a cushion cover that was used in Ioannina a few centuries ago.

Around it, I embroidered a kina / mourning prayer traditionally sung by women on Tisha B’Av, the fast-day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE. As the story goes, the destruction of the Second Temple by Roman occupiers was what brought the first Jewish community, the Romaniotes, to Europe. They settled in what is today Greece, and made their capital in Ioannina. 

For the embroidery, I used gold and silver threads which I bought in Thessaloniki. Such threads were also used by the embroiderers in the court of the Ottomans and throughout  the empire, as in Ioannina.

Footnotes

  1. Romaniote Parochet from Ioannina, with a dedication text and two roses: https://artifacts.jewishmuseum.gr/artifacts/parohet-40/
  2. Reference image for Rose of Ioannina: https://www.instagram.com/p/CC3PMCioS_M/
  3. Reference image for protective eye: https://www.instagram.com/p/BgV9v_7h_49/
  4. A cushion cover from Ioannina, with the botanical pattern: https://artifacts.jewishmuseum.gr/artifacts/cushion-cover-31/

Adi Liraz is an interdisciplinary artist currently working between Berlin- Germany, and Ioannina- Greece. Adi holds a Master in Arts from the Art Academy Berlin Weißensee (“Art in Public Context, Spatial Strategies”) and a Bachelor in Fine Arts from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem. She has exhibited and performed in various places around Germany, Greece, and Israel/Palestine and works also as an educator focusing on contemporary and historical political realities in collaboration with different institutes in Germany and in Greece. adiliraz.com