Artist: Sarah Zell Young, USA
Parshat Metzora describes tzara’at as a skin affliction or rash that infects body and inanimate objects. My piece for Women of the Book depicts both the tzara’at growing over and then overtaking the physical body, and its debilitating effect on the psyche of the afflicted individual. An afflicted person is referred to as the “tzaru’a” or the “metzora”. When a person is afflicted with tzara’at the community practices a complete shunning. The afflicted person must be isolated from all human contact and is banished to the outskirts of the community. The metzora remains separated from community until his/her tzara’at is healed through a series of elaborate cleansing rituals conducted by the High Priest. But the external skin disease is only an outward manifestation of what can be understood as the real plague. The Talmud states there are seven sins that could cause tzara’at: evil or damaging speech, murder, perjury, sexual immorality, arrogance, robbery and miserliness. In this line of Jewish thought, the tzara’at is an external manifestation of a persons’ internal feelings and or behaviors.
This image shows both the physical and psychic body being overpowered by the tzara’at itself and the weight of shame as one’s once hidden thoughts and actions, in the form of a scaly skin disease, are seen by all. The metzora, after being cast out of the camp, must tear their garments, refrain from cutting their hair and cover part of their face, as if in mourning. In a way they are mourning since they grieve for the loss of their community, and are powerless to return to it until the High Priest declares them free of the tzara’at. The colors of tzara’at are said to erupt as an intense green or a concentrated red. I chose acid green as a graphic element painted on top of the women’s body to represent the corrosiveness of isolation. I painted over the surface of the image of the flesh as if it were my own body to signify the shame we sometimes inflict on ourselves. The image reflects both the invasive nature of tzara’at and the emotions evoked by the affliction.
Sarah Zell Young received her MFA from Hunter College and a BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. The recipient of numerous awards, including a grant from Asylum Arts, a Fischl/Kohn Family Stipend from the Rafael Schächter Institute for Arts and Humanities at Terezin, and the Judy and Arthur Zankel MFA Award in Art from Hunter College, she also presented her solo show Occupy Sanhedrin while artist-in-residence at the Haddassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University in 2012.