Catharsis: Human Fragility and Aspects of Purification in a Corona Inspired Exhibition – a Curatorial Case


  • Nava Sevilla Sadeh Tel Aviv University



Covid 19; Purification rites; Catharsis; Platonic Philosophy; Israeli Art


This study focuses on an exhibition entitled – Purity/Purification/Pure, which engaged with questions regarding the condition of humanity in light of the present Covid 19 pandemic. Most of the works displayed in this exhibition were not created during the Covid 19 outbreak, but during the years preceding it. The context of the present pandemic was arrived at through the curatorial work. Catharsis is an Aristotelian concept, defined as a tragic action happening to an individual, and purifying him through feelings of fear and compassion. "Purification" is a term particularly related to in Antiquity, and hence to the concept of catharsis. In affinity with Classical reception studies, the analysis and interpretation of the works are supported here by ancient literary and philosophical sources such as the Poetics by Aristotle, the Symposium and Phaedrus by Plato, the Enneads by Plotinus, and others. This study focuses on several aspects of the corona pandemic and the concept of 'Catharsis' that were reflected in the exhibition: Birth, death, and human fragility; the validity of purification rites in the present era; and nature and its degeneration or annihilation by humankind. The main conclusions deriving from the exhibition and this study is that the human need for purity and purification is a primordial one and has never ceased to be the focus of a basic desire of humanity. However, the present pandemic appears to be a warning for humanity against its own extinction if it continues on its degenerate path, without any possibility of recovery or obtaining purification.  

Author Biography

Nava Sevilla Sadeh, Tel Aviv University

Teaching fellow and art researcher at Tel-Aviv University.Title of PhD dissertation (2005): "Mythological Scenes in Roman and Early Byzantine Mosaics in Eretz Israel – Context and Meaning".Research interests: Reception studies – the Classical presence and influence in contemporary culture; analysis of Greek and Roman art through a philosophical orientation; mythological mosaics from a neo-Platonic perspective; gender and art.Topics of publication: Classical influence upon contemporary Israeli art; an analysis of the mosaics from Sepphoris, Shechem and Scytopolis; Interpretations of Greek and Roman sculpture.Courses taught: Style and visual analysis of art; Classical concepts, gender and interpretation of mythology in Ancient art; Roman mosaic art and wall painting.Tel Aviv University, Department of Art History, Yolanda and David Katz Faculty of the Arts, Mexico Building, Rooms 111 and 112, Tel-Aviv University, 69978 Tel-Aviv, Israel, Phone: 972-3-6408482, 972-3-6409481, Fax: 972-3-6407781. 


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