{Germany} Haut Ab!

November 12, 2014

Germany

The other week, I was invited to a Tweetup at the Jewish Museum Berlin for a preview of their latest special exhibition all about ritual circumcision – a topic I admit to knowing very little about. The German exhibition title ‘Haut Ab!’ is a play on words, meaning both ‘skin off’ as well as ‘get lost!’, the latter referencing the antisemitic and islamophobic attitudes Jews and Muslims often feel their religious circumcision traditions encounter in other cultures.

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The exhibition introduces visitors to the lesser known religious, cultural and historical background of ritual circumcision in both Judaism and Islam, including in the context of its reception in Christianity.

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Starting with a series of sculptures entitled ‘On Knife’s Edge’, the exhibition sets the scene by looking at portrayals of the male body and attitudes to circumcision in cultures across the world, from the Ancient Egyptians and Greeks, to modern day USA. Apparently it was very difficult to find an uncircumcised Greek statue for the exhibition as many surviving ones have their ‘appendages’ missing :) And did you know that around 70% of US American males are circumcised?

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The exhibition continues by exploring the laws and customs of circumcision both through a collection of tools and artefacts surrounding the ritual itself – such as double cups  (one for wine used during the blessing, one to catch the blood from the wound), a 21st century disposable circumcision toolkit, or a lavish boy’s outfit from a Muslim circumcision ceremony in Berlin in 2009 – as well as its impact on material culture and art. For example, in terms of material culture, a former Medieval love token casket was repurposed as a container for circumcision tools with Hebrew inscription carved in to it (see photo above). And in relation to art, one of the exhibition highlights is a painting by Peter Paul Rubens illustrating that the “Jewish birth” of Jesus and his naming ceremony on his circumcision day.

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In the middle of the exhibition, a room kept entirely in white quotes the passage from Genesis 17, which gives the exhibition its biblical context: “Every male among you shall be circumcised”.

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And, finally, the exhibition concludes with a media room where you can watch a wide range of clips from films, documentaries and interviews which all deal with the topic of circumcision and the debate surrounding it, sometimes in a serious, sometimes in an ironic way. As you exit the exhibition, the artwork “Personalausweis” (Passport) by New York artist Harvey Swedler forms the exhibition’s epilogue.

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The exhibition ‘Haut Ab!’ (or its English title, ‘Snip It!’) runs until 1 March 2015. If you’re visiting Berlin and the Jewish Museum before then, why not check it out!

 

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