Accepted paper:

Awkward Objects of Genocide: Holocaust Witness and "Heritage Communities" in Polish Vernacular Arts

Authors:

Erica Lehrer (Concordia University)
Roma Sendyka (Jagiellonian University)

Paper short abstract:

Based on collections, archival, ethnographic, and oral-historical research, we ask what insights can be gleaned about Polish Holocaust memory, testimony, witness, and heritage by examining prolific folk art made by Polish "naïve" artists, and the way it has been treated by ethnographic museums.

Paper long abstract:

Eastern Europe witnessed 14 million deaths in less than a decade between 1933 and 1945. The local impact of such wanton killing as it reverberated in local communities over the subsequent decades is just beginning to be considered. It can be assumed that every community produced artistic responses to that traumatic memory, but Holocaust scholarship has yet to attend seriously to vernacular arts of witness. Based on collections, archival, ethnographic and oral-historical research, we ask what insights can be gleaned about Polish Holocaust memory, testimony, witness, and heritage by examining the prolific folk art made by Polish "naïve" artists, and the way it has been treated by ethnographic museums. The objects themselves are uncanny: at times deeply moving, at others grotesque, they can also be disturbing for the ways they impose Catholic idioms on Jewish suffering via symbolic forms like a Pietà or a Nazi crematorium recalling a nativity crèche, or upend accepted roles of victim, perpetrator, and bystander. What can art history/visual culture studies, oral history, anthropology, and museum studies tell us about the motivations, functions, and ethical implications of such works? What can we learn from ethnographic museums' categorization and treatment of them, and how might we exhibit them in more effective ways, to provoke important debates about cultural memory? Finally, what supranational "heritage communities" might these objects evoke and implicate - and analytically necessitate for their fullest understanding? We consider the status of "art naïve" in the contexts of Holocaust art history; museology; and cultural memory.

panel P015
Breaking the Silence: Heritage Objects and Cultural Memory