shari rothfarb | water rights home | ocean avenue | water rights | video | from the curator
Digital video installation, color, 15:00
WATER RITES is an experimental documentary installation, composed of a fifteen minute digital video projected down onto a mikveh-like tiled pool of water.
The video itself is structured by twenty-seven quotes from a wide range of people: mikveh practitioners both religious and secular; Judaic, cultural, feminist, and sociological scholars; the Bible; and literary texts. They are written and spoken over imagery that is bound to mikveh in terms of culture, religion, and gender. Breaking with traditional documentary 'talking heads,' WATER RITES juxtaposes these quotes with provocative and lush imagery, ultimately creating a landscape that transgresses the boundaries of space and time to reflect the many different experiences and points of view about mikveh.
Women have risked their lives throughout history to immerse in the mikveh waters. WATER RITES includes such stories; for instance how one family in Stalinist Russia constructed and hid a mikveh underneath their kitchen table, and how women would walk through miles of arctic conditions in order to immerse in this mikveh. Also told is a story from Nazi Germany about a group of women who insisted that they be allowed to immerse in a proper mikveh before being shot to death.
Women have questioned, redefined and reclaimed the ritual of mikveh with personal and contemporary relevance. These women wish to use mikveh to mark changes in their lives, such as recovering from rape or traumatic disease, as a way to heal their bodies and spirits, and to mark the ends and beginnings of important stages and cycles in their lives. The lyrical and evocative imagery includes original footage of both existing ancient and modern mikvaot from Israel dating from 37 B.C.E. from Masada, Jerusalem, and the Galilee area of northern Israel, as well as images of women preparing themselves for immersion and entering the mikveh. The physical space and landscape of the mikveh in relationship to the body becomes a central visual theme.
WATER RITES ultimately offers an intelligent, artistic, and timely new appreciation for the beauty and wisdom of mikveh through the documentary's unique approach of combining fact, personal testimony, and a vast array of visual metaphors about this sanctified tradition which has, through its wisdom and spirituality, survived every manner of oppression throughout the ages.
Water Rites installation concept illustration.
Water Rites installation at the Jewish Museum