Vow of Silence
December 15 to 22, 2014, “Vow of Silence” Art Residence Aley, Beirut, Lebanon.
Vow of silence is usually a religious vow, taken in a monastic context. It comes in different names, forms and contexts, more or less rigid in implementation. While some vows require absolute silence, others practice limited speech. Practice is integral in many religions: Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and some Christian traditions. Vestal virgins in ancient Rome were bound to severe silence for long years. Trappist monks and nuns avoid any access speaking, they set up a particular sign language to help them go by their daily activities. Pythagoras imposed a strict rule of silence on his disciples.
At Artist Residence Aley (ARA) in Beirut, I took a vow of silence for one week, silencing myself completely in order to“hear the other side”. Being jewish and partially raised in Israel, my goal was to clearly define the prejudices I unconsciously absorbed as a child and to “clear the space” in order to learn about the society and culture I knew very little about. During my week of silence, I lived in almost monastic setting of ARA, located on Mount Lebanon about half hour drive from Beirut. Guided by my hostess, Syrian refugee woman, I indulged myself in everyday life of Beirut, visited museums and art galleries and went to the theatre several times to see plays in English, French and Arabic, regardless of the fact that I don’t speak Arabic.
My most intense experience was the participation at the needle workshop Basmeh&Zeitooneh with Syrian women refuges at the camp of Shatila, well known along Sabra for the massacres in 1982. In silence, I experienced the misery of the camps and the strength and unity of the women that lost their husbands, sons, grandsons, homes and everything else except their dignity. They stand together. Through the needle work, the women found a source of income, the way to express themselves creatively as well as the surrogate family. They sit on the floor in one room every day making colorful wallets, bags and scarves while their young children and grandchildren run around playing together.
My generous hostess, took me places and introduced me to people, patiently explaining that I am an artist and that I took a vow of silence, therefore I am not speaking. Reactions were different: from people whispering to me, as if not to awake someone or something, to laughter, from amazement to amusement. In the residence, I would spend cold mountain nights alone by the fireplace, guarded by the property dog Chico. The experience was very intense. I have learned very much about myself, about the culture I was fully emerged into, but also about the worlds that I belong to or belonged to at some point in my life. Above all, I have learned not to trust anyone else but my own experience, purified from political cultural and religious dogmas.