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Exhibition: women in Holocaust and genocide

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Ronald Feldman Gallery, exhibition, women in Holocaust and genocideUncovering the past to confront the present in order to include women’s stories as education for the future.

The Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York recently exhibited work by more than thirty international artists who presented artistic representations of and reactions to sexual violence against women during the Holocaust and later genocides.

According to recently declassified documents at the UN War Crimes Commission Archives, women were subjected to persecution unique to their gender during the Holocaust.

They were vulnerable to rape, sterilisation experiments and forced abortions. They were forced into sexual relations for food or other necessities.

But sex crimes were not classified as war crimes until the 1994 International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda.

And although there has been extensive documentation of the violence of the Holocaust, sexual violence against women has mostly been covered up or denied.

The earliest memoirs in the 1940s mentioned sexual violence during the Holocaust, but afterward the subject seemed to have almost disappeared.

However, as proven in books, documentary films, interviews, and archived testimonies, various kinds of sexual violence were prevalent.

Artistic representation is one way to raise awareness about this heinous component of the Holocaust, as well as the later genocides.

The artists who depicted the Holocaust at the gallery included four survivors, their close relatives, witnesses and concerned others, as well as second and third generation descendants of survivors, and artists living outside of Europe at the time of the Holocaust; artists portraying later genocides included survivors and witnesses.

The exhibition presented 47 cutting-edge works on sexual violation by 30 American, Israeli, and other artists including Rostan Agala, Ofri Akavia, Judy Chicago, Ayana Friedman, Regina José Galindo, Nechama Golan, Mitch Lewis, Shosh Kormosh, Judith Weinshall Liberman, Ella Liebermann-Shiber, Boris Lurie, Haim Maor, Naomi Markel, Anat Massad, Mary Mihelic, Dvora Morag, Nezhnie (Muriel Helfman), Halina Olomucki, Zeev Porath (Wilhelm Ochs), Rachel Roggel, Manasse Shingiro, Hana Shir, Li Shir, Nancy Spero, Linda Stein, Yocheved Weinfeld, Gil Yefman, Racheli Yosef, Safet Zec and Dvora Zelichov.

All of these artworks on sexual violence during the Holocaust and later genocides are the artists’ poignant reactions to what women suffered. The representations about later genocides and ethnic cleansings in Bosnia, Darfur, Eritrea, Guatemala, Iraq, Nigeria, and Rwanda echo the horrors that some women experienced during the Holocaust.

And like Holocaust survivors, women who survive today’s genocides are frequently silenced by their own unwarranted sense of shame.

The exhibition aimed to uncover the past and confront the present in order to include women’s stories as education for the future.

The artworks commemorated and reflected upon this violence and serve to inform viewers about this missing part of history, encouraging empathy and shedding light on this component of genocide; to lift the silence is to move past despair to hope and gives women a voice.

Featured were two artworks done secretly inside Nazi concentration camps, borrowed from the Ghetto Fighters’ House, Israel, and works by Boris Lurie, a Holocaust survivor and co-founder of the NO!art movement in the United States in 1960.

And an installation, Body of Work (2017), was commissioned for the exhibition and presents crocheted sculptures by Israeli artist Gil Yefman and the Kuchinate Collective of African women refugees, who suffered trauma before reaching Israel from Eritrea.

The exhibition was a project of Remember the Women Institute, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to integrating women’s stories into history.

It follows the first book on the subject, Sexual Violence against Jewish Women during the Holocaust co-published by Remember the Women Institute in 2010.

’VIOLATED! Women in Holocaust and Genocide’ ran from 12 April to 12 May this year.

The exhibition can be seen online here.

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