ARTWORK // SHOAH
I Have Seen Flames : The Shoah series.
The series is a meditation on the Holocaust and its reverberations on the post-Holocaust generation, my generation. It consists of 22 collages on handmade paper with inclusions of painted xeroxes, gold leaf and other materials such as hair, leaves, bark, ashes,burnt shingles.
The work is divided into two sections, Day and Night. Like unleavened bread, with its connotations of the Jews’quick exit from Egypt, the first part, Day, conveys feelings of haste and fear. I used very simple elements, always the same – gold leaf, pigment, identity pictures, hair, fragments of ledgers– and made no effort to conceal the borders between the various elements opf the collages. The edges are roughly cut, the handmade pape ris used both as a background and as a thin layer ( converying the fragility of the human skin) pressed over the image.
The second part, Night, uses larger formats, darker backgrounds, this time not in skin tones but in purples, greens, greys, blues : imaginary landscapes with their mists, their clouds, their perspectives, are summoned.More complex layering intervenes, with torn edges of handmade paper ( a mixture of abaca and linen). The collages become almost tri-dimensional, as in bas-reliefs. Words by surviving witnesses from the camps, such as « the color of the Germans », « I have seen flames », « strange crystals, blue-violet », as gthey were spoken in Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah, are important elements of the composition.
While Day is more of a narrative without words, Night deals with memory, obsession, maybe even exorcism and hope. In both parts I have been using symbolic elements from the Holocaust – hair, identity pictures, gold, ledgers…– but have tried to turn these symbols of death into symbols of life, growth and transformation. The gold becomes a background , as in icons ; the hair, a plant or a flame ; the identity pictures, portraits.
My family, like all Egyptian Jews, was untouched by the Holocaust. Why then have I found necessary to explore this theme that is not « mine » ? Perhaps it is because of the recent birth of my son that images of children’s deaths began to haunt me. I felt both obsessed ad vulnerable. People in my generation, I felts, should understand the legacy of the Holocaust and keep it within their memory. As a European ( I grew up in Switzerland and France), I believe that as Germany reunifies, this understanding becomes a necessity ; otherwise, the Shoah will float in Europe’s memory like a ghost, haunting Jews and Germans alike. It cannot be a coincidence that these collages were done since the political liberalization of East Germany.