"Diwani" is the first solo exhibition of Itzik Badash. In Arabic "Diwan" means both a "collection of songs" and a "salon for entertaining guests", two concepts that together comprise of the public space in which the artist's cultural-religious event takes place. In addition, the word also refers to anthologies of poems, odes and lamentations written by the Jewish poets of Spain. Within this cultural sphere, Itzik Badash had chosen to hold a rite of passage. In the ceremony he exposed the fact that he is an HIV carrier and presented the illness as an aspect of his identity, alongside artist, Jew, Israeli and a person of Oriental origins, oscillating between the Hebrew language and the Arabic-Libyan language that he remembers from his childhood in Natanya.
For the purpose of this ceremony, Badash turned to his grandmother and his mother, who belong to a dynasty of strong women holding important roles and enjoying power and status. The grandmother has a social-communal role as a wailing woman, like her own mother before her, who used to fulfill the same role in Tripoli, Libya.
Lamentation is based on emotion. Badash is closely familiar with the magnitude of the loss, the depth of the pain and the weight of the grief, and it is these emotions that he wishes to pour forth into the blessing ceremony. The blessing constitutes for him an understanding and recognition of AIDS as a social disease, which in order to confront, he needs his family as a source of strength; strength based on exposure, truth, reinforcement, empowerment and support.
Vered Madar, in her essay ""What Did Death Tell You When it Came?", addresses the issue of the wailing women's place in life cycle ceremonies, in which death functions as a rite of passage. She notes that "the words in the songs, lamentations or blessing of women are perceived not only as expressing emotions or opinions, but also as possessing the power to act and to bring about actions" (pg.8). Badash is affected by the ritualistic role of the women's dynasty in his family, and with them in mind he creates his own personal rite of passage.
In his book "The Ritual Process, Structure and Anti-Structure", Victor Turner divides the rites of passage into three stages: the first stage marks the individual's separation from his previous place in the social order. The second stage is the transitional stage shifting through a liminal state to the ritualistic world – a world that is disconnected from concepts of space and time, and in its framework the everyday structures of life are both developed and challenged. The third stage is a reconnection and reentry into the cultural world.
This scheme proposed by Turner illuminates Badash's ceremony. In the separation stage, Badash asks his grandmother Gita and his mother Julia to leave Natanya and come to the studio in order to film a ceremony in which he will receive their blessing. The transition to nudity is also part of the separation stage. Thus, Badash appears in the ceremony as someone who owns nothing and is devoid of any indication locating him in a clear social context, as if he has returned to the point of departure, to his birth. His behavior is passive and submissive, and it appears as though he reduces himself to a state from which he will be reshaped and be infused with additional powers that will help him to cope with the new station in his life.
During the liminal stage, Badash lies stark naked (as a newborn baby), while his grandmother and his mother are bathing him with water and soap. At the same time, two meaningful voices are heard in the background. The first is the canonical-religious authoritative voice of the "General Remedy" hymn from the Book of Psalms. In the publications of "Nakhlat Ben-Tzi– Breslau Research Institute", it is noted that the "General Remedy" refers to the ten types of poetry from which the Book of Psalms draws. Poetry has the power to "filter" the good from the bad and to abolish the spiritual defect that sin causes. Before Rabbi Nachman discovered the psalms that constitute the "General Remedy", he said: "First the Mikve (ritual bath), first you have to bathe in the Mikve". In other words, in order to enter some phase of sanctity, from the lowest to the highest phase – immersion in the Mikve is necessary.
The second voice that accompanies the ceremony is the biographical, personal voice of the grandmother, singing and praying in Arabic and Hebrew. The grandmother, who was widowed at a young age, begins by listing the names of the brothers and family members who died. Later on, she blesses Badash, integrating the names of the great Rabbis in her blessing for good health and a long life. In the course of the blessing, Badash's mother gathers him onto her lap, hugs and kisses her son, and seals the ritualistic stage with a touch that is all love, devotion and acceptance. The blessing ceremony, which took place in familial intimacy between Badash, his grandmother and his mother, was documented by the photographer Sharon Beck.
The nature of the grandmother and mother's presence at this stage is influenced by the lamentation of Jewish women. Vered Madar, in her article "Laments of Women from Yemen: Text between Voice and Movement", describes the women's lamentation as "a relationship and constant transition between a vocal recital, a physical performance and a poetic text". She contends that the women's lamentation addresses repressed contents, which apparently can only be conveyed in this framework: "The texts express great strength, and a great deal of female hegemony over the connection between life and death, as motherhood, which is perceived as a source of life, can also be seen as a source of death. The wailing women are the sorrow itself, rather than the discussion of it. In their own bodies they are the pain and the understanding of man's mortality, rather than a mere cognitive manifestation of it" (Madar pg.111)
The women, notes Madar, "serve as a horn expressing the voice of the male cultural-religious establishment, and as a tool ¬¬¬in its hands, at least in all that pertains to maintaining the hierarchical order between men and women, as they call to maintain the accepted patterns of behavior, and in relation to the religious-Jewish attitude towards the dead. At the same time, in equal if not greater intensity, they keep in touch with the dead, and seek to affect their life in the world beyond. In doing so, they challenge death, its finiteness and even God's exclusivity in his contact with the dead" (Madar pg.111).
Even though Badash's rite of passage is a ceremony of blessing and empowerment, there are several visual and content-related links between the text that Badash directs and creates and the singing of the wailing women: the bathing itself is reminiscent of the bathing of the dead as a stage of purification before death; AIDS, which is identified with death, accompanies the blessing ceremony as a shadow; like the wailing women, Badash too evokes repressed contents (his illness); and most important – like the women's lamentation, Badash challenges both death and the exclusivity and authority that stems from the male-cultural-religious establishment.
Badash's rite of passage supports neither the accepted distinction between the "secular" and "sacred", nor the distinction between politics and religion. Badash conducts a private dialogue with the Jewish faith, and he is not subject to the moral discourse of reward and punishment. Despite his lifestyle and sexuality, which is a life of sin according to the Jewish faith, Badash forms a connection between the spiritual power of the purification and the healing power of the blessing, in aspiration for transformation and hope. This amounts to recognition of the human contact and relationship, without which society cannot be established.
The third stage of the rite of passage, according to Turner, is the stage of reentry to culture. This is the end of an orderly transformative process, a process that generates and drives dimensions of creativity, freedom and possibilities for reorganization of the social condition. Badash reconstructs the rite of passage in the "Comme il Faut" exhibition space. He chooses to present the documentation of the blessing ceremony in a series of real-size photographs, which display his naked body in the hands of his mother and grandmother. The photographs in the exhibition space are appropriated and distanced from Badash's biographic story, and charged with a sequence of meanings that are related to the field of art and culture; thus, these images correspond with the bathing ceremony that appears in Anisa Ashkar's work in the performance art "Barbour Aswad" (2002), and in Erez Israeli's work, "Love Song" (2007), in which the artist is seen as he bathes a young man in the bathtub with the song "If You Go Away" playing in the background, and then, as a complete surprise, he drowns him.
Alongside the photographs, a sound work is presented that was created by the composer Dikla, who was present as a spectator in the ceremony itself. The sound work includes a psalm from the Book of Psalms that appears in the General Remedy: Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God" (Psalms 42-43). Later on, inspired by the grandmother's lamentation, Dikla sings in Arabic: "Ya Diwani, Talu Ya Jirani, Ya Divani, Talu Shufu Il Ana Shuftu", i.e.: "Ya Diwani, Come my neighbors, Ya Diwani, Come see what I have seen".
"Laments of Women from Yemen: Text between Voice and Movement", Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Folklore, 23, 2005, pp. 89-119
"What Did Death Tell You When it Came? Laments of Women from Yemen in their Cultural Context", Pa'amim 103, Spring 2005, pp.5-55.
Victor Turner, 2004 (1969), The Ritual Process, Structure and Anti-Structure, Resling Publishing.