The Book of Yona


These artworks blend the coming-to-America stories of Katarzyna’s and Yona’s lives with that of the biblical prophet Jonah / Yona. The art touches on issues of identity, conversion, immigration, and heritage, through a blend of visible images and “augmented reality” images and video trigger.

The Times of Israel, Oct 7, 2017: ...Yona Verwer and Katarzyna Kozera’s take on the Book of Jonah, a pivotal moment for Verwer as a Jew who converted from Catholicism and left her home in the Netherlands for New York. Her Jonah is in a submarine in New York’s East River, and she takes that up another notch with augmented reality, having viewers use smartphone or tablets to hone in on a spot in the painting, which triggers a video embedded in the artwork, leading the viewer closer the layered narrative.”

More info below the images.

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Interactive art project with artist Katarzyna Kozera

About the art series “Book of Yona”:

This series weaves together the immigrant stories of Katarzyna Kozera and myself with the biblical story of Jonah the prophet.

They echo my own journey from Europe to New York, from  Catholicism to Judaism. Conversion requires ritual immersion, a total submersion of the body in a pool of water, to symbolize a change-of-soul. The water symbolizes birth as a Jew. In these paintings these “living” waters are New York’s East River.

In some of the works one sees my own eyes above. Ori Z. Soltes wrote: ...”a contemporary underwater fish (a submarine) and the Brooklyn Bridge below; her story embedded beneath the immediately visible surface—and Katarzyna’s parallel journey from Poland to New York”. 

The embedded videos, accessible to the viewer by Ipad or smartphone, add another dimension to this narrative.

The biblical story is about second chances, forgiveness, and redemption; humanity matters more than abstractions. Jonah's journey is our journey.

Rabbi Steven Bob, from his book “Jonah and the meaning of our lives”:

We always want a second chance. We’d like everybody we did us wrong to give us another chance, but are we willing to give others a second chance? Not simply forgiving the people who wronged us, but trusting them again in circumstances in which they had previously disappointed us.....”

“Nineveh raises broader questions: How do we view people different from ourselves?...”

“Do we sometimes look at “others” as threatening? Can we accept that people of other religious communities can be in a proper relationship with the same God we serve, even though they use different images and tell different stories about that God’s connection to humanity?”

About the biblical book of Yonah (written between 793 and 758 B.C.)


Yonah's fear and pride make him run from God. He does not want to go to Nineveh (in modern day Iraq) to preach to the people, as God has asked, because he feels they are his enemies, and he thinks that God will not destroy the city as promised. Instead he takes a ship to Tarshish, in the opposite direction. A bad storm makes the crew cast lots and determine that Jonah is the problem. They throw him into the sea, and he is swallowed by a whale. In its belly for 3 days and nights, Jonah repents of his sin to God, and the fish spits him up on land. Jonah then makes the long trip to Nineveh and leads the city in a great revival. But instead of being grateful he is unhappy when Nineveh repents. Jonah learns his lesson when God uses a wind, a gourd and a worm to teach him that He/She is merciful.

The book is about the interactions of a Jewish prophet with the non-Jewish world. This prophet is stubborn, while the non-Jews are good-hearted and obedient.

To boil it down in one sentence: Chapter 1 - Yonah is running FROM God. Chapter 2 - Yonah is running TO God. Chapter 3 - Yonah is running WITH God. Chapter 4 - Yonah is running AHEAD of God.

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Copyright Yona Verwer and Katarzyna Kozera, 2017. All rights reserved.