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An interview about the artist's Never Again (Apocalypse) series:
I'll have to begin with my childhood which I spent in Europe in wartime, and it left an indelible imprint on me. Obviously it's something that you never erase from your psyche. No matter how hard I try to not to deal with it--it's unconscious, it comes out. It began with Warsaw Burning after I wrote my autobiography in l961. Writing my experiences for the first time stimulated me and I didn't know what I was going to do and before I knew it , I painted Warsaw Burning. When my mom and I left Warsaw, all the buildings were burning--on both sides--and that's what came out in the work and writing my biography was the first time that I actually acknowledged my past. And then for years I didn't deal with it. It wasn't that I consciously decided not to think about it. Part of me was in denial and now that I know more about other individuals like myself, it's not surprising for me. But I did feel guilty for a long time not acknowledging my war experiences.
Periodically, I would be in the studio and something would motivate me and I found myself again dealing with my memories of war. Part of me was doing it deliberately but the other was saying, "No!" So I would go back and forth and the strength of it shows--a quality of inner fighting and lack of resolution as to the acceptance of myself as a human being who survived the war and as an artist that needed to express it. From time to time, I would do a piece about these experiences and I would just hide them and no one would see them. I wouldn't even photograph them because I didn't want it to be a part of my permanent display or collection. Through the years I've accumulated a number of works which have really not been shown, and I can now relate to other artists that were going through the same thing as myself. I've read that many artists kept some of their best work hidden.
But now is the time to change. Writing my autobiography in 1961 was a liberation for me from nightmares. What allowed me to explore my past was being interviewed for Stephen Spielberg's Shoah Foundation which he formed to make a documentary of the survivors of the Holocaust. For a long time, I received letters from his Foundation asking me to fill-out a questionnaire and finally one day I did. They were very much interested in interviewing me but I did not accept because I felt that I needed to keep my anonymity and my privacy. Only my family and my closest friends were aware of what I survived as a child and where I was because when people asked me where I was during the war, I did a very safe thing. I would say I was in Switzerland. Just a lovely, neutral country, and that ended the questions. But after the Shoah interview, which I did in 1997, I began to think more of the works which are now called the Never Again series--what I used to call the Apocolpyse series. Even though I have many other series and works in my life, they're still an intense part of me and the strength comes through.
The Shoah interview opened up the part of me which was in denial but the intensity of my experience is evident in the work itself. It is a small-format painting but it has much to say. The content is very important and they do transcend just color, shapes and forms.
They transcend even the details and the specifics of that time. There's universality to the pieces in that series. It's about all kinds of apocalypses. It's not just about Nazi Germany. It has to do with an aspect of humanity which is not very pretty. In fact, it's cruel. Maybe that was why I was so reluctant to deal with it before because basically I recoil from cruelty and man's inhumanity to man. It's the ugliness of part of our human condition. By accepting that it's part of our world, it also paves a way to, at least, record the experiences. There are not many artists that experienced what I have experienced and are truly able to speak. I feel a certain obligation to speak and teach about it--to remember it. Some people are doing it through literature, some through movies. Stephen Spielberg's team are doing a tremendous service through documenting these experiences. Katte Kolwitz did it during the war and some of the fine art is of previous war experiences. So my experience is unique to myself and in some way I think it transcends being just about me. It's now the greater part of all of us. And it's happening again right now--look at the news. I say, "Never Again," but here we are again. We're going through the same thing only on a different scale, in a different country, and in a different context.
And that's why I feel that the work is so important that I'm doing now, of greater importance to me now that I'm a grandmother than it would have been when I was very young when I was raising a family. It's important for the young generations that are coming up, for my children and grandchildren, and my friends to remember and understand.
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