Artists take inspiration from Holocaust archives

The Holocaust Centre North offers four artist residencies


Irina Razumovskaya, an artist-in-residence at the Holocaust Centre North with her artwork, inspired by the museum's archives (Photo: Holocaust Centre North)

Irina Razumovskaya, an international artist in ceramics is one of the four artists commissioned for the second year of the Holocaust Centre North’s project, Memorial Gestures.

The artist’s residency was started in 2022 to give leading and emerging artists an opportunity to create brand new artworks inspired by the centre’s archives and the themes of Holocaust remembrance and history.

At this year’s launch, Razumovskaya, a Russian Jew and world-renowned ceramic artist who left the country in 2014, told the JC: “In Russia, I’ve witnessed the obliteration of the fact that Gulags existed and the telling that Stalin was really a good guy, so I have been thinking: ‘What would happen if all the memories of the Holocaust were lost and obliterated?’ There are so many deepfake stories on the internet denying the Holocaust, that now, more than ever, we need the evidence and survivors’ stories. That’s really why I applied for the project.”

Razumovskaya is currently researching and finalising ideas for her piece. “I’m working on the themes of belonging and home and on scars and how things can break and shatter.”

The other artists commissioned, Maud Haya-Baviera, Ariane Schick and Matt Smith, will produce work in a variety of mediums, including videos, writing and sound. The nine-month residencies will culminate in a special exhibition of the works in September this year.

In an exciting development for the Holocaust Centre North archive, it has received funding from the Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation and Arts Council North to engage both a writer-in-residence and a translator-in-residence.

Dr Alessandro Bucci, the director of Holocaust Centre North, told the JC: “We are a museum focused on telling stories of survivors. Our archives contain a substantial number of poems, stories, memoirs, letters and other textual artefacts, much of it not written in English nor published in any form.

“By inviting writers and translators, we can offer a rare opportunity to explore the way survivors told their stories. We hope the writing residencies, along with the artists’ ones, will contribute greatly towards making these stories accessible to future generations.”

Holocaust Centre North, housed in the University of Huddersfield Campus, was founded in 1995 to provide friendship and support for Holocaust survivors who fled Nazi persecution and resettled in Yorkshire.

Dr Bucci told us; “We started out with about 300 artefacts initially; we are now up to about 8,000 items. By 2025, the aim is to have catalogues of all our artefacts and histories available online. By the end of March this year, we should have the first catalogue available.”

Artefacts on display include a bench inscribed with “Nur für Juden” (“For Jews Only”) as Jews were forbidden from sitting on other benches in Nazi Germany, and an accordion belonging to a survivor, Conrad Lesser who came to the UK in 1939 as an “enemy alien”.

Another essential part of the centre’s work is in education, organising group visits for both primary and secondary schools.

All the artists, including the writers, will work remotely but with regular visits to the centre to research and explore its archives.

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