1 Noli me tangere is the Latin version of the words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalen, meaning “Do not touch me” (the quotation appears in John 20:17). The words were a popular trope in Gregorian chant, and the moment in which they were spoken was a popular subject for paintings. Its modern English meaning is “Do not disturb /interfere”.
Video performance, 4:18 minutes
A split screen video of the performance (English and German versions) was produced in 2010.
A compilation video DVD of Touch me Not (4.18 minutes) and the article Self-portrait of a Self-hating Jew (short version 30 minutes) with images was produced in 2010.
Tanya Ury wears a black blouse: the arms are tied behind her back like a straightjacket, while she stands speechless, bound as if gagged, and texts, with voice-over accompany the action, telling her experience of having hair that is considered unusual by most people.
Rachel Ramsay cites situations within Doron Rabinovici’s novel “Ohnehin”, where people forget themselves with racist displays, in her (as yet unpublished) dissertation “Parallels, Positionalities, Proximities. Intersections of Otherness” 2009:
“The philo-Semitism of this generation is paralleled to their xenophilia, which manifests itself as a tendency to domesticate the foreign and treat them as pets. For example, Stefan loathes his mother’s friends’ inclination to report their latest acquisitions on the Naschmarkt, obtained ‘by my Turks, yes you said by your Turks’2(Ohnehin 175). The terms are very reminiscent of Herbert Kerber’s daughter Bärbl’s affectionately intended ascription of the title ‘our house Jew’3 to survivor Paul Guttmann, an expression which harks back to the idealised Habsburg era. Similarly Stefan’s friend Patrique, son of a Kinshasan diplomat, was subjected to constant stares as a child: ‘on the tram Alp inhabitants would even touch his skin and fuzzy hair, as though they had discovered a small beautiful animal, a sweet type of ape.’4“5
On 3rd February 2009 on CNN in a programme about the new American First Lady Michelle Obama, biographical details emerged that when she studied at Princetown University USA, in the mid eighties, students would stroke her hair to bring “good luck”. I quote from the satirical “How to Rent a Negro” by Damali Ayo: “This time-honored tradition began in the nineteenth century, when it was considered good luck to touch the hair of a black person…”6
But this kind of harassment is not limited to the African or African American experience. The “Jewfro”7 also seems to inspire intimidating behaviour in unreflecting persons. Although once when I arrived in New York 2006, while traversing the airport security zone, one of the luggage handlers, a young black guy, called out with respect: “Love your hair!” – a similar but very different situation developed on my arrival at the Cologne airport security check within the same year, and all male and female officers began laughing at my appearance. One of the male officials, in an effort to compensate for bad form or even racism, struck up a conversation: “You have a very interesting hairstyle”, he commented. My hair was styled in corkscrew curls – he was wearing his short greased hair in spikes. “So have you – quite an unusual hairdo”. I replied, taken off guard, and unable to react appropriately.
In certain cases, hair can be perceived as being a Jewish sign. While the orthodox Chassidic Jewish male styles his hair with “peyes” side curls, the orthodox female covers her head with a scarf or wig. The blonde wig that I wore in parts of the video/performance Kölnisch Wasser insinuated diverse symbolism, including the dangerous appeal of the blonde siren embodied in the “Loreley” figure (who lures sailors to their death), a Rhine Maiden also conjured in Heinrich Heine’s poem of 1822.
From 1993 on I have been collecting my hair (from natural hair loss) daily, in small dated plastic bags, which have then been sewn together. The first presentations of these “shower curtains” (deliberately reminiscent of the shower scene curtains in Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, a film with multiple references to the Holocaust8) were combined with the Golden Showers performance documentation. The reference in this piece to the collected hair of concentration camp victims was overt. In 2004, I created the first coat entitled Hair Shirt as part of the Who’s Boss series.
Hair often betrays ethnicity – race, and I cannot recount how often people have reacted to my hair – positively, often negatively. Strangers try to touch my hair. This desire for the tactile experience was something I witnessed dramatically at the City Library Münster, when the “shower curtains” were being exhibited in 1997. Although I provided a sign requesting that no one touch the exhibit, I observed how many spectators could not but help take the plastic bags containing hair between their fingers.
Extract from Self-portrait of a Self-hating Jew, Tanya Ury 2009
After I presented my performance Touch me Not at the Bet Debora conference in Sofia, Bulgaria June 2009, Toby Axelrod came up to tell me how a few years ago, on a tram in Prenslauerberg, Berlin, she had witnessed an incident involving several German youths, who were sitting near a young woman with long, curly, black hair. One of these reached out from behind to touch her hair, saying “I just wanted to see what gypsy hair felt like,” adding “isn’t it great that we live in a multicultural land!”, and began singing a nationalistic song about how proud he was to be German. As she reached her stop, Toby ran up to the driver’s car and gave details of the circumstances. The driver went back to inspect the rear car, where the men were seated. Toby rode her bike up to the next tram stop, where she stopped the tram and asked the driver if he had confronted the youths. He reported that he had checked the wagon, but that he could do no more than that, since he had not personally witnessed anything untoward. Toby thought this better than having done nothing at all – at least the youths will have understood that they had been reported.
1 Noli me tangere is the Latin version of the words spoken by Jesus to Mary Magdalen, meaning “Do not touch me” (the quotation appears in John 20:17). The words were a popular trope in Gregorian chant, and the moment in which they were spoken was a popular subject for paintings. Its modern English meaning is “Do not disturb /interfere”. www.websters-online-di…
2 ‘bei meinem Türken, ja, sie sagten, bei ihren Türken’ (Translation from German TU)
3 ‘unser Hausjude’ (Translation from German TU)
4 ‘es war gar vorgekommen, daß Älpler in der Straßenbahn das krause Haar und die Haut befühlt hatten, als wären sie auf ein kleines schönes Tier, auf eine niedliche Affenart getroffen.’ (Translation from German TU)
5 (Page 158 Ohnehin, Doron Rabinovici Frankfurt/M.: Suhrkamp, “2005” ISBN 3-518-45736-5). Pages 40-41 of 59, Parallels, Positionalities, Proximities. Intersections of Otherness, unpublished Dissertation 2008 Rachel Ramsay UK
6 How to Rent a Negro, By Damali Ayo, Edition: illustrated, Published by Chicago Review Press, 2005, ISBN 1556525737,
9781556525735 208 pages
7 A Jewfro refers to a curly hairstyle worn by people of Jewish descent. Its name is
inspired by the afro hairstyle, which it vaguely resemb
8 See Taking on the Mantle, article by Tanya Ury in: Auf Brüche – Kulturelle Produktionen von Migrantinnen, Schwarzen und jüdischen Frauen in Deutschland ((Marginal Cracks – Cultural Production of Women Migrants, Black and Jewish Women in Germany)), 1999, Ulrike Helmer Verlag (publishers) ISBN 3-89741-042-7 (D) and Cathy S. Gelbin, Metaphors of Genocide: The Staging of Jewish History and Identity in the Art of Tanya Ury – in Performance and Performativity in German Cultural Studies, Carolin Duttlinger, Lucia Ruprecht, Andres Webber (eds) 2003, publ. Peter Lang
Touch me Not, video performance
2009 (25.-26.3) Guest lecturer, Department of Critical Studies (German), Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, University of British Columbia, Okanagan (CAN)
2009 (25.-28.6) Migration, Communication and Home, Jewish Tradition, Change & Gender in a Global Context, Bet Debora conference, Sofia (BG)
2010 (5-10.6) DVD presented 4.15 pm on 8th June at Jews/Colour/Race, a multidisciplinary workshop held at Ben-Gurion University, Beer-Sheva (IL)
Script, Voice-over: Tanya Ury
Performance: Tanya Ury & David Janecek
Camera: David Janecek
DVD edit Mirco Sanftleben, pixel2motion
Concept: Tanya Ury