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Manya Treece

When Words Fail: Visual Art after 10/7

Darom Adom, by Ya'ara 'Snagglebit' (used with the artist's permission)

By now, it’s a common refrain; we think about October 7th, and then we say there are no words. 

I have never before had no words. I’ve been a psychotherapist for 16 years. I work with trauma every day, and words are my only currency. I have used words to translate tears, balled fists, averted gazes, mouths ajar, racing hearts and racing minds. And I have done what is, for me, the hardest thing: I have used words to translate silence. 

I tend to speak at the same volume in all of my clinical sessions, no matter the issue at hand. I rarely whisper, and I never gape. I hate to signal that I am afraid of pain, and I’m not. Instead, I ask people to deposit their distress with me. I tell them that I will keep their pain safe so they can live again. And when they need to withdraw that pain, to find meaning or strength or instinct within is, I will offer their pain back to them. I have never been in a situation where I couldn’t find a word. 

Until now. 

I used to think I was in the business of saving lives with words.  But now. as I read about the soldiers falling daily, as I think about the people half my age who are tasked with operating the Iron Dome, and — most desperately — when I think about those who were murdered,  kidnapped, raped — or all three — the words don’t arrive. 

For this reason, I have turned to visual art. This is the first time that visual art has compelled me. And art not only compels me now; it is my life raft. 

In the days, weeks and months following October 7th, I have pored over the incredible Wrapping Memory project, an initiative from Department of Visual Communication within the Bezalel School of Art and Design in Israel. Each artist has created a piece in homage to the kibbutzim that were torn apart on that day. (See? Even the phrase “torn apart” feels paltry.) The artists have made files of these images available for purchase and donating the proceeds to victims of October 7th, or perhaps better to say survivors.  

Over the course of several late nights, when I most certainly should have been sleeping, I wrote down the names of every artist who participated in the project. I found their websites or their Instagram pages. I studied their work. Perhaps the project’s most powerful image was made by Shoshke Engermayer, now famous for the searing “Daily Postcard” that he has produced every (truly, every single) day since the massacre. Perhaps we might also call the massacre: the pogrom, the indelible, the unfathomable and the utterly indefensible. 

Even though Engelmayer’s piece moved me the most, it was the one I couldn’t bring myself to purchase. It depicts a bucolic scene of a kibbutz; the inscription at the bottom of the page reads, simply, “Something bad is about to happen.”  

There is nowhere in my home that I could tolerate displaying this image. Not any room that my children sleep, eat or play in; in the last few months, I have become superstitious towards them. I thought maybe I could print it and tape it to my bathroom mirror. I thought I could affix it to the back of my closet. I thought, if I can’t speak the pain, at least I can look at it. 

But right now, I can’t. 

I found another incredible piece on Instagram, made by an artist unaffiliated with the Wrapping Memory project. The piece is called Darom Adom, the Red South. Darom Adom arrived a few weeks ago. As soon as I opened it, a few words finally arrived in the form of a haunting mantra: the desert was supposed to bloom; instead, it bled.

About the Author
Manya Treece is a Jew who lives in America. She is also a wife, a mother, a psychotherapist and a sporadic poet and author of flash fiction. Her husband is a combat veteran of the American army whose experiences shape many of her perspectives on war, brutality and the human condition. Manya lives outside Chicago with her husband and three children.
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