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Two exhibits, "The Khabouris Codex," a 1,000-year-old version of the New Testament written in Aramaic, and "African Art: Highlights from the Gallery's Permanent Collection," a look at artifacts and relics from across the continent, premiered at the Bayside gallery Friday.The shows arrive on the heels of "An American Odyssey [Debating Modernism]" a collection of works from some of the most pre-eminent modern artists, including Andy Warhol, Willem de Kooning, Carol Feurman and more. "American Odyssey" debuted at the gallery in October after its $5.5 million renovation was completed.But with the Khabouris Codex, the gallery is hearkening back more than 1,000 years, when the version of the New Testament was handwritten in Aramaic. The pages are made of lamb parchment - now curved with age and water damage - bound between olive wood covers. The manuscript is on loan from the owners, the McDougal family in Atlanta, in a tentative two-year agreement. "This is the first time it's been on exhibit where people can view it," he said.The McDougal family rescued it from Turkey in the 1950s, when groups of Muslims were destroying Christian artifacts, said Eric Rivera, executive director of the Khabouris Institute, the California-based organization dedicated to translating and digitally archiving the document. The codex is believed to be the family Bible of a line directly descending from the Apostles, Rivera said."This may be the most original Aramaic version in existence," he said. "We want to make sure no dogma enters the translation."The translation has been hampered by the use of Aramaic and the subject matter, Rivera said. Understanding the idiosyncrasies of a nearly dead language and applying it to something as complex and contextual as spirituality and religion have proven difficult, he said."We're attempting to understand the spiritual concepts," Rivera said. "It's based on the psychology of the mind. It has ideas we didn't understand until Freud and modern psychology."Rivera spent more than five months working on a digital archive of the manuscript, he said. He needed the reproduction to be as good as the original to differentiate between separate inks that were used. With a crystal clear copy he can tell what was written first, and what was later changed, he said.Using an 80 megapixel digital camera - well beyond the 3 and 4 megapixel cameras on the market for consumers - and spending 30 minutes to an hour setting up each page, Rivera was able to create that archive, he said."I found a way to magnify it as if through a magnifying glass," he said. "I now have a digital copy. It can go on display and I don't have to touch it."Rivera hopes seeing the codex will give people a new appreciation of religion."We wanted to bring people's awareness to the effort to authenticate it. This may give us a fresher version of our cultural religion. Religion is not the same as the original teachings."The codex is surrounded by another work of art. In "Air," muralist Marlene Tseng Yu created a sky of blues, pinks, purples dotted with white clouds as the first of her rotating installation. "Elements of Life - Water, Air, Earth, Fire" was meant to embrace the presentation of the codex. Outside the small brick-lined room holding the codex and "Air," awaits the gallery's permanent collection of African Art. The dozens of masks, costumes, artifacts, relics, sculptures and other pieces are a small fragment of the African-made works donated to the gallery by collectors, said Leonard Kahan, curator of the exhibit."This represents total Africa," he said, pointing in a circle around the room.The artifacts symbolize pieces of everyday life, Kahan said. Combs, pipes, drums, staves, and more were used in ceremonial rites in different cultures, as well as for day-to-day living, he said.Other pieces, such as a Warrior Ikenga statue from the Ibo culture in Nigeria, can be seen as studies in symbolism. The totem of male power is a man, holding a weapon in one hand and the severed head of an enemy in the other. He has horns, representing his virility; he wears shells around his neck for money; he sits on a throne and wears a girdle of war - all signs of his power.Another piece, from the Ejagham society between Cameroon and Nigeria, is a plaque, commemorating a fine feast. A tray is filled with the skulls of the animals consumed, surrounding a traditional drum and two straw whisks, representing cleaning tools, Kahan said."This is a wonderful celebration of a secret society between Cameroon and Nigeria," he said. "They would cook up a crude pot and take the skulls and place them on this plaque."The Queensborough Art Gallery is located at 222-05 56th Ave.Reach Assistant Managing Editor Courtney Dentch by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 139.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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