I finally discovered that my Tallit work had been torn from the exhibition wall – in front of the Arts Centre staff – by someone known to them for their challenging behaviour.
It had been rescued and stored for me and was shortly restored to its rightful place where it hung without further problem until the end of the exhibition.
My work was in the form of the Tallit – an undergarment worn by orthodox Jewish men. It takes the shape of a four cornered garment with a long fringe at each corner. The fringes when fingered are there to remind the wearer of their religious duties. Although my Tallit was sewn from a bed sheet I taught myself to tie the ‘tzizt’ or fringes according to custom so as to give the ‘garment’ the respect I felt it was due.
The work is part of a series called ‘Kaddisch’.
Kaddisch is the ancient Aramaic recitation said on the death of a family member. My grandfather died in a concentration camp and so Kaddisch was never said for him. These works stand as Kaddisch for both him and other family members lost in the Holocaust.
Yad Vashem is a huge memorial collection of names and information posted by relatives of the dead. I replicated in pencil on the bedsheet my grandfather’s entry of death and his portrait photo.
Above this on the garment are what appear to be coloured abstract patterns. These were the tags worn by camp inmates. They designated the persecuted group they belonged to – Jewish, homosexual, gypsy, disabled…… Below that is an extract from Goering’s speech in 1938 and a contemporaneous diagrammatical attempt to prove Aryan racial superiority using Mendel style ‘science.’
It sounds complex but it presents as simply a T-shirt until studied closely.
This is the way I work: always attractive and approachable but with an underlying darker narrative of memory or memorial. In this case I had hoped that the numbers on all the documentation would resonate with the viewer– a vibrant life reduced to lists and numbers.
The incident has however made me consider the content of my work and its place in a public space.
How would I have responded if the perpetrator had been Jewish and objecting to the form of the Tallit even though the message on it was of man’s inhumanity to man? Or possibly someone who objected to the words ‘concentration camp’ as being unsuitable for the space -an Arts Centre exhibition wall alongside a cafe? Do my rights as the artist override any offence my work causes to its audience and if so why? Does the fact that it is ‘art’ make it inviolable?
Had I put up the entry from Yad Vashem, the speech from Goering and the diagrams with an explanation and then presented it as a history lesson in this space would I still feel it appropriate?
I guess I might think it an odd choice – yet although I do realise that the bed sheet format of the works we exhibited and the content of my work might challenge this audience, I do for some deep seated reason, still feel comfortable with the same information presented as an art piece. Why?
Interrogating ones history is of course an area of practice that offers an artist the integrity of experience, insight, awareness, perception, and hindsight. No wonder it is well mined in every creative media.
Autobiographical work is familiar country for the contemporary artist. Maybe I should be taking heed of that word ‘contemporary’. Autobiographical artistic musings were not much in evidence pre- Freud and certainly a section of today’s artistic audience would still consider such navel gazing to be an arrogant irrelevance to ‘painting’
In an era that has seen artists document and examine abortion, Aids, death, masturbation…… should I feel less concerned?
It is – I think- in part the current political atmosphere where protest and our private lives are being scrutinised by ever more governmental forces, combined with the sudden combustible nature of Religion in the bigger sense, that makes for my feeling of worry, concern and insecurity.
Interesting – especially in the light of my subject matter.