Oicherman, Katya

Posted in: Artists




STORIES OF THE TORN SWADDLING CLOTH. 2010–2011. Silk, cotton, hand embroidery on swadding cloth, video. Installation.

My grand-mother, Sarah Maximovsky, known as Sonya, received her identification card upon arrival to Israel in 1990. Due to a mistake in the registers of the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, the space for “nationality” was printed with the words “not registered”. Henceforth, Sarah, a surgeon who chose not to change her name during the “Killer Doctors” affair in the end of Stalin’s regime in Leningrad, has become an unidentifiable agent in terms of national belonging.

I received my ID in 1993, reaching the age of sixteen. Due to a mistake in the registers of the Ministry of Interior Affairs, the year of my birth was printed as 00. Henceforth a doubt is imposed on my being in the world.

In 1997 I wanted to marry. The rabbinic council asked to verify my Jewish decent. I showed my ID, which stated in the space of nationality: Jewish. Not convinced, they demanded to speak with my grand-mother. They called her and asked in Russian: “Is your name Sarah?” “Yes”, – she replied. “Have you always been Sarah or have you just become Sarah?” Sarah, who due to her age had hearing deficiency and was anxious for not answering adequately, replied: “What? Ahhh… Yes, I have always been Sarah.” They then asked her to speak Yiddish, and she spoke as well as she could remember. Thereupon it was decided that I am Jewish.

In German lands of Ashkenaz there used to be a tradition: after the circumcision, the mother of the newborn took his swaddling cloth, tore it into four pieces, sew them together into a long band and embroidered with his name, birth date and a blessing, adding decorations according to her taste and ability. The band has been donated to the local synagogue to be used as a Torah scroll binder. In this way the birthday of a male child has been documented and the covenant between the almighty and people of Israel, commemorated in mundane cloth, regenerated in the familial memory.

Never a girl in Ashkenaz has received a binder.

This binder is meant for my grand-mother and me. It is made of my old swaddling cloths, salvaged from becoming dust-cloths. I embroider stories of my grand-mothers’ name and my year of birth. My mother is not present in the binder in her name, but in her labouring over the embroidery. To restore mothers’ presence, nameless as it remained, I made a film which reveals her in her voice and hands, re-rolling the binder slowly. The rolling is accompanied with a song about separation I listened to in early childhood as it has been sung by my mother.





Comments are closed.