The Power of Hair

Of Persian fairy tales and female self-determination

Woman standing next to a showcase in which there is a sculpture made of hair

Artist Mandana Moghaddam standing next to her sculpture Chelgis I in the exhibition Cherchez la femme. Wig, Burqa, Wimple; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Yves Sucksdorff

In the course of the new exhibition Cherchez la femme – which deals with the covering of women within the idea of the monotheism of the three leading religions – we spoke with Iranian artist Mandana Moghaddam. Her artwork Chelgis (pronounced “Gelgis”) contributes to the concept of the exhibition in an impressive way and further stimulates the viewers’ own contemplation on the subject. Just in time for the exhibition’s opening we conducted a short interview with Mandana Moghaddam:

Dear Ms. Moghaddam, would you tell us a little bit about your artwork and the story of Chelgis?

I began my work by thinking of contemporary womens’ issues, examining them from different angles. When I drew the first sketch I saw the story of Chelgis – which means “40 braids” – right in front of me.  continue reading


A great example of what Germany’s achieved in recent years: release him!

Photo of buildings in Berlin’s Kreuzberg-Mitte district

View from the Academy of the Jewish Museum Berlin towards the Springer building with the lit-up sign, #FreeDeniz; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Stefanie Haupt

As I leave my office at the Jewish Museum Berlin, emerging from the W. Michael Blumenthal Academy onto the street, the hashtag “#FreeDeniz” beams towards me from an illuminated black-on-turquoise-green display on the Axel Springer building. The first time I saw it, I was cheered by the signal that the publishing house Axel Springer SE* was calling for the release of Die Welt’s correspondent in Turkey, Deniz Yücel. But each day seeing the display has gotten sadder. I’ve known Deniz Yücel since 2003, when — together with other German- and Turkish-speaking Berliners — he organized bilingual protests against the bomb attacks on the two Istanbul synagogues, Neve Shalom and Beth Israel, on November 15 of that year. Twenty-four people were killed in those attacks and at least 300 wounded.

Deniz and I haven’t had contact for quite awhile. But since mid-February, through the news of his imprisonment for “terrorist propaganda” and the car procession protests that followed it, as well as conversations with friends and of course the illuminated sign, memories from the period in 2003 and 2004 when we interacted almost weekly having been coming back.  continue reading


“Faith isn’t something you can see from the outside.”

A Visit with Sister Katharina at Karmel Berlin

Transparent bust wearing a black veil.

Sister Katharina donated this veil to us for our exhibition; Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Katharina Erbe.

Covering one’s head has almost entirely disappeared from Christian women’s devotional practice. In Germany, you only actually see veils on the sisters of Catholic religious orders. In preparing for the exhibition Cherchez la femme (more about it on our website) we all agreed early on that we wanted a nun’s veil.

So I set out for Karmel Regina Martyrum in the northern part of Berlin’s Charlottenburg district, a convent of Discalced (or Barefoot) Carmelites. The convent’s wardrobe mistress, Sister Katharina, greeted me at the door. After some discussion, her view on the matter emerged as fairly sober: some people may ascribe specific spiritual meaning to certain items of clothing but it was very personal issue. In any one community you can meet with a wide variety of attitudes and practices.

Our conversation about the meaning of their religious dress began with Sister Katharina sharing an anecdote:  continue reading