Art as a response to the horrors of the Holocaust

“Sing their names like prayer.” This line comes from Birdsong, a poem commissioned by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust from Gillian Clarke, the former National Poet of Wales. We invited members of the public to read the text on our website or listen to a podcast of Gillian reading the poem, and to create some art of their own in response.

Art can be so very important in easing other people’s suffering and improving the healing process.

Each year the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust runs an Arts Programme, and this year we commissioned 12 groups from regions across the UK to create a permanent artwork in their community to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Day.

The artworks explored the theme of absence, and the roots needed for life to regrow after genocide, in line with this year’s theme – ‘How can life go on?’.

Sculptures, gardens, collages and murals comprise the works, explore the theme of absence and the roots needed for new life after genocide.
Sculptures, gardens, collages and murals comprise the works, explore the theme of absence and the roots needed for new life after genocide.

We know that people are grappling with the challenges of this question. How can rebuilding take place in a society where anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hatred, homophobia and other hate crimes are on the increase? How can survivors come to terms with the past? And what can we do to assist?

Perhaps an answer can be found in one of the artistic submissions to our site.

Students at St Nicholas Catholic High School, in the north-west of England, created a new herb garden. They designed and installed signposts featuring motifs of absence, roots and rebirth in a variety of media. And they planted rosemary and lavender, symbols of remembrance and healing.

The creativity the communities showed in their art projects was startling.

In Firrhill High School in Edinburgh, one hundred 14- and 15-year-old Art & Design students produced memorial collages celebrating the lives of the victims of the Holocaust and their families.

The students used diverse materials such as wax, acetate, collage, layering and simple stitch techniques. The memorial collages are displayed on their 72 Lanterns Installation to symbolise the 72 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and show their hope that human beings everywhere must learn to live with each other and work together to build a better world for all.

We thank the hundreds of people who took part in the projects and have been working to create these permanent artworks.

At the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, we know how valuable creative responses can be. Not only are the individual artists themselves reflecting and grappling with the past as they determine an artistic response to it, but their creations enable us to learn something new, and can prompt fresh thoughts and insights – and questions.

We know that 93% of people engaging in HMD activities go on to take further action, and in the majority of cases that involves further learning.

We call on everyone this year to come together, to look at the art projects at and to share them.

By joining together we can remember, and we take steps to heal our communities and wider society.

Olivia Marks-Woldman is chief executive of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust.

About the Author
Olivia is the Chief executive, Holocaust Memorial Day Trust
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