Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Israel: Jerusalem: Western Wall

The Western Wall, or kotel, in Jerusalem is considered the most sacred place in Judaism, and has been a pilgrimage site for Jews since the 4th century. A wall of enormous blocks of Jerusalem limestone is all that remains of the Jewish temple built by King Herod in 516 BC, after its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. When writing about holy Jewish and Muslim sites in Jerusalem, every sentence is a political statement. Even the previous sentence is loaded, since some Muslims believe that Judaism has no religious claims to anywhere in Jerusalem. When discussing the area around the Wall, it becomes even more difficult. Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 – 1967, Jews were forbidden to come to the wall. When Israel conquered Jerusalem in 1967, they liberated the wall for Jews in an emotional celebration, and demolished the Muslim neighborhoods that surrounded it in the now non-existent Moroccan Quarter.

Politics aside, there is no denying that the Western Wall is an incredible pilgrimage site for millions of Jews around the world. This pile of stones, with no special aesthetic value above any of the other stone walls around the ancient city, is made sacred only through the prayers and connections of the millions of pilgrims that place their hands against its cool, hand-worn surface.


In contrast to the solemnity and darkness of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the outdoor Wall Plaza is often full of singing and celebration. Bar mitzvahs, celebrations for boys entering manhood at age 13, are held in front of the wall every Monday and Thursday.


Boys beam from ear to ear as they carry enormous Torah scrolls with the men of their family. 

After the ceremony is complete, the congregations erupt into swirling circles of dancing and singing of the hora, as female relatives and onlookers peer over the divider between the men’s and women’s sides of the wall and toss candy as tradition.

Another Jewish tradition, tefillin, which consists of small black boxes containing verses from the Torah, and leather straps wrapped around the head, arm, hand, and fingers, is worn by observant Jews during weekday morning prayers. The origins of tefillin in the Torah are fairly vague in their symbolism, but they are described as a reminder of God’s bringing the Israelites out of Egypt and a protection against evil thoughts.

There is a stall near the plaza that will wrap the tefillin for you, to experience the prayer. The man asked if I would like to try it, and I asked what the meaning behind it was. He described the leather strap, which runs from the parchment scroll box, around the arm tightly down to between the fingers, serves as a symbol of connection between mind, heart, and hand. It is a physical reminder that a person should strive to connect his thoughts and feelings into action.

I saw a group of soldiers from the Israeli Army have the tefillin tied and the talit, prayer shawl, draped around their shoulders. They all then prayed at the wall, and several of them also wrote notes and put them in between the cracks of the stones.

Most of the moments at the Wall, though, are of quiet, personal connection. Young men and old men alike place their hands and heads against the Wall in quiet prayer. Proud fathers lead their sons to touch the wall for the first time.

Men often leaned against the Wall for so long, eyes closed, sometimes with tears falling down their cheeks, that when they opened their eyes, the sun was too bright and they looked like they had awakened from a trance.

The cracks between the stones burst with prayers and wishes written on scraps of paper and pushed as close to holiness as possible.

It is these spaces in between the stones that are sacred, physical reminders of hope. Like the plants that grow from in between the stones, there is the potential for life.

The Wall stands, not as a monument to a temple that existed two thousand years ago, but as a monument to tradition, hope, and connection.

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Gay Pride Seattle/Gay Marriage NY in 'Understanding Illustration'

I am excited to announce that my reportage of Seattle's Gay Pride Parade and the passing of gay marriage in New York were featured in the book 'Understanding Illustration' by Derek Brazell and Jo Davies! Inside are several of the images from the reportage and an interview/essay about the process and meaning behind them. The book was released in the UK last week, and came out today in the US.

I received my copy, and the book is beautifully designed and curated, with 37 different artists whose work is examined in-depth to look at how they communicate through images. I am so honored to have been included in the book, and hope you will all take a look, as there is a great collection of artists inside. A big thank you to Derek Brazell for including me in the book!

You can take a look at my original posts on the events below, from my Picture for 1000 Voices Project on gay rights:

Gay Pride Seattle
Gay Marriage NY

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Grandfather Gandhi

Today is the release date for my first children's book, 'Grandfather Gandhi'! Written by Mahatma Gandhi's grandson, Arun Gandhi, and author Bethany Hegedus, it is the story of a young boy learning to use his anger to create change, with the guidance of his monumental grandfather.

The book has been a dream job, especially for my first job out of school, and it's so wonderful to finally have it out in the world!

Below is the book trailer with narration from authors Arun and Bethany, music by Ustad Ghulam Farid Nizami, and animation and illustration by yours truly!

(Trailer also available on YouTube)

The reviews so far have been wonderful, including a starred review from both Kirkus Reviews and Publishers Weekly! Here are a few quotes about the art from early reviews:

Turk mixes carefully detailed renderings with abstracted expressions of emotional struggle, achieving a powerful balance. - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Grandfather-Gandhi/Arun-Gandhi/9781442423657#sthash.kCROT9aI.dpuf
"Turk mixes carefully detailed renderings with abstracted expressions of emotional struggle, achieving a powerful balance."
-Booklist, December 2013

"Turk’s complex collages, rich in symbolic meaning and bold, expressive imagery, contribute greatly to the emotional worldbuilding."
-Kirkus Review, starred review

"Turk’s illustrations are stylized, strikingly patterned, and rendered in contrasting purples and golds, blues and creams, blacks and whites, highlighting the tension between anger and peace. Dynamic visuals and storytelling create a rousing family story that speaks to a broad audience."
-Publishers Weekly, starred review

Also, check out the site for the book GrandfatherGandhi.com where you can read posts about the book, its creation, and its themes from myself and the two authors. You can also take a Pledge inspired by the message in the book, to Live Your Life As Light.

More to come soon on this blog about the making of the art and illustrations for Grandfather Gandhi!

 (Atheneum/Simon & Schuster)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Israel: Jerusalem: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

My next three days of drawing in Jerusalem were at three of the most important holy sites for Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. These three religions were all born out of Jerusalem, and throughout the past several thousand years, each of them has claimed and reclaimed holy sites all throughout the city. Mosques, churches, synagogues, and religious pilgrimage sites of all kinds were built right on top of each other as the ruling powers changed. For instance, above the tomb of Biblical Hebrew leader King David is the hall of Jesus’ Last Supper, and above that is the dome and crescent of the E-Nebi Daud mosque, from Ottoman rule (which is now drawing controversy with its possible conversion into a synagogue).

My first stop in my own pilgrimage around Jerusalem was to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried, and resurrected. Christian pilgrims from all over the world come to follow the road of the Stations of the Cross through Jerusalem, to reenact Jesus’ final hours, culminating in a visit to the Church.

The church is dark and filled with echoes. Smoke from incense and candles hangs in the air, and people wander through the various shrines of each denomination of Catholicism present in the winding church. Up a narrow staircase to the right of the entrance is Golgotha, where it is believed that Jesus was crucified. From up over the entrance, you can see the streams of pilgrims entering and winding their way through the maze-like church.

Here, pilgrims wait in line to enter a small shrine on their knees, underneath a flat silver Jesus on the cross, to pray. Nearby, dozens of candles are lit in prayer, and collected by the priests as they basins fill up.

What interested me most was the different ways in which people worshipped upon entering the church. The most popular was the Stone of Anointing, where it is believed that Jesus was laid and prepared for burial. Pilgrims wipe the stone with oil, kiss it, put their forehead to it, lay their hands on it, and anoint themselves with the oil.

Some delicately touched the surface with their fingertips, while another was using her kerchief to wipe up every bit of oil, dabbing between and mopping up in between the cracks. Another woman I saw took about a dozen souvenirs she had bought and rubbed each one on the stone to bring back home. There were all different styles, but everyone seemed very intent on making sure they came away with a bit of the holiness rubbed off on them.

Around the church, people stop in front of various places and portraits, crossing themselves, kneeling to pray, and often reciting prayers from their iPhones.

Olive-wood crosses are ubiquitous and often you can see people deep in thought simply smiling and stroking the cross.

 There is a solemnity and compulsiveness to the way people proceed through the space, like they are moved by magnets.

Orthodox priests glide through the halls like big chess pieces, sometimes chanting and wafting smoke out of lanterns.

 In the central rotunda is the Aedicule, which houses the Tomb of Jesus. Long lines form outside the tiny entrance for people to go inside and pray, as outside pilgrims light candles.

Unlike the Stone of Anointing, where people seek to take something away, the glowing lines of candles around the shrines were all left behind as burning prayers. The site of the church itself felt secondary to the constant flow of the exchange, with each person taking something with them and leaving something behind.

For more of Evan Turk's travel illustration, check out the link below: