Turnova: Asking

What strikes me about Nataliya Turnova’s series “Passions” are the layers of context. Coming out of the Moscow contemporary art scene, Turnova (born in Kabul) thrives on reference and representation. To quote the 14th-century German theologian Meister Eckhart, “Everything exists in everything and nothing can exist beside itself.”

There’s an intimacy in Turnova’s works that results from this sense of interdependence. There’s also an almost aggressive directness in her works, especially this series of portraits that pair relatively normal bodies with unnatural heads. It feels almost disturbing at the onset, until you start to consider the brushstrokes, the details and how they form a whole other than the sum of its parts.


This particular painting from “Passions,” Asking, has that Mona Lisa kind of quality where the eyes seem to follow you — even as you realize they aren’t making direct contact. It’s stuck with me in particular over the last week or so after I watched Shira Leah’s video of Shira and two other adults being kicked off of their Birthright trip for asking about the West Bank border wall and challenging the alleged answer that "the entire conflict is caused by crazy violent Palestinians.”

The adage goes that to be Jewish is to ask questions. We build holidays and services around them. Which is why, as a Syrian-American especially, I feel a deep sense of betrayal when valid questions (especially those around the Nakba) are not only not discussed, but also punished. Regardless of your faith, to follow a faith is to ask questions. And asking questions means you’ll often be confronted with answers that may seem disturbing at the outset, or answers that seem to combine more than one truth. To avoid the questions, however, is to avoid building the muscle of faith.

Today’s Contemplation

In meditation, it’s easy for the junk drawer to be opened up. It’s not too far off from the random subconscious trappings that come up in dreams. The uncomfortable thoughts or questions that come up, however, are just as valid and valuable for us as learning experiences. The next time you have an uncomfortable thought or belief challenged, what happens if, instead of running from it, you meet it head on, with curiosity and compassion?