Tanya Habjouqa | Sacred Space Oddity: The Un/Holy Land

Country of origin: Jordan
Project location: Israel, Palestine
Program: Photography in Collaboration
Collaborators: Dimi Reider, Muhammad Jabali
Year: 2016


The story of the Holy Land is told and retold daily. The story of religion in this territory is even better known, and has been told in the same fashion for much longer: three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, coexist uneasily and unequally. Each has held sway at some point over the past two millennia; each has been employed to pursue earthly, material goals by the elites and underdogs of each faith, across generations of fervor, disenchantment and schism. Countless gallons of ink have been spilled describing the contestation between the three faiths and the way it shapes politics.

The purpose of our project was to side-step the trichotomy and to describe the people and places where Islam, Christianity and Judaism meet and overlap; and to side-step the dichotomy of secular and religious, sacred and profane – showing how closely the two blend in almost every iteration.

This was what gave the project its original title: The Un/Holy Land. It seemed like a simple enough mission statement, as we set out: capture the spaces where the sacred is profaned, and where the profane is elevated onto holy. Find the spaces where what is holy to some and what is holy to others blend and overlap: syncretic shrines, recycled and appropriated worship places, desecrated mosques and empty spaces arbitrarily consecrated for service; cemeteries keeping long-exiled communities alive. Find the edge people: those who feel that the constraints of any organized religion are too narrow, so they make themselves a place in the crevices between one faith and another. Find the people who form the crevices: those who stay planted stubbornly within their faith, but push it apart, forcing it to be porous enough to include them.

The photographs in this selection – first pickings from an infinitely larger, ever-expanding project – reflect their gaze on the land and on us as much as they reflect our gazes on the characters and on ourselves; they are co-authors of the project and they reflect the land in themselves as much as they see themselves reflected in the land. There is no way to tell a single, comprehensive story: focus too hard on a single detail and all else dies and fossilizes, open your eyes too wide and the land and everything in it fades away.