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Press Release

The emblematic building of the former Public Tobacco Factory opens its doors for the first time, introducing a new contemporary cultural centre in Athens, open to all. This project is the result of a collaboration between the Hellenic Parliament and NEON to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence.

With this year’s commemoration of the Greek War of Independence and continuing to live through the pandemic, “Portals” aspires to give rise to new messages, ideas, and reflections regarding contemporary artistic creation, through the prism of a newly-formed reality composed of change and disruption.

The exhibition represents a pluralism of ideas and touches upon issues related to collectivity, cultural understanding of history and politics, public space, and our common past, present and future.

Michael Rakowitz’s Charita Baghdad is a site-specific intervention in dialogue with Rigas Feraios’ Charta of Greece. This ongoing work consists of an annotated 1936 Passover Haggadah belonging to the Baghdadi Jewish community in what is now modern day Iraq, from where theartist’s maternal family is from. Conceived in continuing conversation with Dr. Ella Habiba Shohat, a cultural theorist descended from a Baghdadi Jewish family, Charita Baghdad interrogates the linguistic confusion around the existence of “Judeo-Arabic.” While there exists a dialect one can say is specific to the departed Iraqi Jewish community, what emerges from the page-by-page reading of this prayer book is more complex, shedding the simplistic view that Judeo-Arabic was like a West Asian version of Yiddish, partitioned from Arabic. In fact, the book is written with liturgical Hebrew prayers, but with instructions and translation in Arabic-in-Hebrew letters.This illustrates how literacy (reading and writing Arabic) was not accessible to all at this time, and thus education came through the community hub that was the synagogue during this era. Arabic-in-Hebrew letters functioned simply as a transliteration of the lingua-franca of Baghdadi Arabic. At stake in this study is the contested identity of the Arab-Jew which is rejected by Jewish nationalist ideology. As Shohat writes in The Invention of Judeo-Arabic,“the inclusion of Judeo-Arabic in the ‘family of Jewish languages’, standing always already apartfrom its (non-Jewish) Arab neighbors, thus reveals another facet of the question, i.e. a Jewish national allegory in which for Jewishness to exist Arabness has to vanish, and then be resuscitated as essentially Jewish.

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