Memory in art as an instrument of survival

GLANCE  INTO THE HISTORY & PRAYERS VIA ARTWORKS

Instrument of Survival

The longer we live, the more reflective every Tisha B’Av gets. It is a natural development of course, on a border of cliche: the more one knows, the more one reflects.   Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av in Hebrew calendar, is so special day for Jewish people who care about their history that it can be called an annual contra-point for those of us who are not indifferent to the reasons for our falls and the search for ways out of it. 

Every year, Tisha B’Av is perceived differently which is not that surprising, too. We do know that the one of the most amazing things in spiritual dimension of Judaism is the fact that in overwhelming majority of cases, as weekly Parasha almost always refers to what’s going around us and in the world with stunning synchronising, as Tisha B’Av annually refers to a number of events and developments around us in a most relevant in-tune. 

And, as it is natural for a human being, many of us refer to history in our thoughts finding parallels, looking for essential triggers, analysing. And – recalling, commemorating, thinking back. 

When memory is living and functioning one, not only we add more decency to this word of ours, but we uplift our own lives, the level of one’s existence – if only because of a simple reason of re-activating and bringing back the energy of people who are gone. 

Those people lived and passed away under so different circumstances. It had happened throughout the layers of the past. They were here, in this world, they were laughing, crying, thinking, speaking. They had their thoughts and hopes. Perhaps, somebody once would remember some of us, too. 

Remembrance is an essential part of humanity. It is a life-rope, literally, for both those who are gone and those who are living and remembering. 

In my understanding, memory is an ultimate instrument of survival. Doubly so, for Jewish people, with our painful, so deeply painful history. 

Art Excursion into Jewish History

Working in the dimension of art, I found that in many of my works, faces are appearing from the templates of my works. In all of the many works that I have created in this technique, not a single face did I draw without seeing it first in the face’s own appearance transpiring  from a template. 

My first work in this special technique is shown in a musical video-presentation which is done as a homage to Rabbi Nachman from Breslov and is set on the beautiful rendition of Adon Olam

This work has started the Songs of Our Souls series.

In the following years, in the course of my work on a number of series and projects on Jewish heritage and history, the tendency had developed, with more and more faces coming out for me to draw them, in the works on different subjects, from the Kotel to the Shoah remembrance, and from prayers to history. 

In the one of two of my works dedicated to remembrance of the strength of Jewish spirit exemplified at the  Masada, the stones of Israel are full of the imprints of numerous Jewish faces, young and old, men, women and children. They all are here. It only takes an effort to seeing them around us. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). MASADA I. Lapice pastel, crayons Luminance, encre l’alcool on authored original archival print on Velin Museum cotton paper. 33 x 48 cm. 2020.

 

Inna Rogatchi (C). MASADA II. Fragment I. 2020.

 

Inna Rogatchi (C). MASADA II. Fragment 3. 2020.

When invited to participate in an important exhibition in Rome, Italy, at the Casa della Storia museum there  in June this year, 2020 ( the exhibition has been moved forward due to the corona now), I started to prepare works for the display from the collection selected by the curator.  

Amazingly, when starting to produce the one of the works which was already selected,  the faces started to appear there. This is how the special version of Cry Heaven was born. Now neither I or curator Giusy Emiliano cannot imagine the work without them. With those faces, the Heaven in my symbolic artwork cries over every one from our six million , and most probably, substantially more souls crushed in the absolutely inhuman way during the Holocaust, in an addressed form. I do believe that it is important to be distinct in our memory on the Shoah. The more distinct, the better. What else can we do for them, really?

Inna Rogatchi (C). CRY OF HEAVEN. IN MEMORY OF SIX MILLION. Crayons Luminance, oil pastel, Indian ink on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 38 x 44 cm. 2019.
Inna Rogatchi (C). CRY OF HEAVEN. Fragment 2. 2019.
Inna Rogatchi (C). CRY OF HEAVEN. Fragment 4. 2019.
Inna Rogatchi (C). CRY OF HEAVEN. Fragment V. 2019.

The similar thinking and idea is transparent in another work which is about our Jewish memory about our Jewish people Ebbing, Tiding ( 2018). The title echoes the waves of our memory reflecting on our history, with its ebbing and tiding that interconnects us each to each other. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). EBBING, TIDING. Crayons Luminance, oil paste, watercolour on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 30 x 40 cm. 2018. The Rogatchi Art Collection.

Prayers In Art: Quests and Answers

We all know that in the life of each of us, there are the moments of praying, even for the sworn atheists. Tisha B’Av is the time of contemplation, not only on our history and its pivotal moments, but, I believe, also on our prayers, both in general and on the things concrete, both in memory of people dear to us, those who have gone recently or a while ago. It is a prayer for the health and well-being of those who are in need of such support. It is a prayer for Israel and its people, Jerusalem and its stones, metaphorically, too, Jews world-wide, those close and far, all 14,6 million. Whenever I hear the statistics, I cannot stop to think about what would be the figure if the Shoah would be prevented. It is also a prayer for all those people who understand, respect, love and support us Jews, because I know that there are many of them in many countries and they do deserve our acknowledgement of their efforts, in my opinion. 

My work Prayer II ( 2018) is about a magic quality  of a prayer: inter-connecting people and mutually supporting them. This quality generates an extra light in our lives. And it appears at the moment when one does need it the most.

Inna Rogatchi (C). PRAYER II. Watercolour, oil pastel, crayons Luminance on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 30 x 20 cm. 2018.
Inna Rogatchi (C). PRAYER II. Fragment III. 2018.

As it happened, the work Prayer Hour has been exhibited widely in its first version, without the faces on the Kotel. It is a part of my Shining Souls. Champions of Humanity project which has many national editions, Brussel, Helsinki, Vienna, London, Rome, Paris, Jerusalem and American ones. The work in question is dedicated to dear friend, special artist and great humanist, late Pat Mercer Hutchens, the brave author of the unique The Auschwitz Album Re-Visited project. More about that rare human and art story can be read here

Earlier this year, 2020, I was in the USA attending a number of events, including a special ceremony of awarding Pat’s husband, great friend of Israel and Jewish people Brig General James M. Hutchens with our Foundation  Humanist of the Year Award 2019 which is Life Achievement Award for  both general Hutchens and his late wife, posthumously. 

The artwork dedicated to Pat was an Artistic Prize of the Award. When I started to work on it, the faces emerged from the Kotel wall on the template. The first time I produced the first edition of the work which is a special art collage, back in 2016, there were no faces. It travelled to the world being shown at several exhibitions, without it. Now the faces had appeared.  I was only happy to draw them. 

But yet much more happier I was seeing the people at the General Hutchens ceremony being literally gleaned to the art work which was exhibited there, for over an hour and a half, and to looking at those faces emerged from the Kotel, in a quiet engagement.  

Many, if not all guests of the ceremony were completely  absorbed by searching the artwork in detail. The connection between the Kotel and Jerusalem and Washington D.C. was palpable. In reality, there are 5,998 miles between the Kotel and the place of our ceremony in Washington D.C. In a spiritual reality, there was no distance between the two geographical spots whatsoever. Because in that reality, the human heart beats geography, and does it in the most natural way. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). PRAYING HOUR II. HOMAGE TO PAT MERCER HUTCHENS. Watercolour, oil pastel, crayons Luminance on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 50 x 40 cm. 2020. Private collection, Washington D.C., USA.

January 2020 was very busy for me. I had to complete several important artworks, some of them went to several notable collections in London, the UK.  I was working day and night, with dead-lines approaching and being immersed into the intense work. My next in line, so to say, work was a new edition of my existing work of the Kotel, The Dove of Israel, which had been also well-known, being included in my Jerusalem Album collection, exhibited previously at several different exhibitions in various countries. 

All of the sudden, the time stopped. The faces started to appear from a known template. More, and more. And birds, and people in their movement, on almost every stone of the Kotel which I know so very well, and which is arguably the most important for me the place on this earth. 

It is difficult to verbalise the feeling of gratitude that overwhelmed me at that moment. That feeling is still with me when I am thinking on this special work for me. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). FACES OF THE KOTEL. Watercolour, oil pastel, crayons Luminance on authored original archival print on cotton paper. 40 x 30 cm. 2020. Private collection, London. the UK.

I am thinking of devoted Jews coming to the Kotel under any circumstances and despite all the risk involved, from the time the courtyard of the Second Temple was extended by Herod and until the establishment of the State of Israel, all those two thousand, two hundred and twenty years.  

Inna Rogatchi (C). FACES OF THE KOTEL. Fragment I. 2020.

I am thinking of the Jews who were unable to come to the Kotel while seeing it so closely, during the twenty years  of Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). FACES OF THE KOTEL. Fragment IV. 2020.

On the Tisha B’Av, I am thinking of the horrific days and nights back in the 70 CE when our Second Temple had been burned by the Romans in a tectonic catastrophe for Jewry and Judaism, with these only 5o meters of the Kotel surviving. How lonely and terrified those stones must have been at the time. But what a strength the Kotel bears with becoming the ultimate source of ultimate strength to so many generations from 70 CE onward. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). FACES OF THE KOTEL. Fragment VI. 2020.

The believers know it by both heart and mind, faith and rationale, spirit and knowledge. The others have their own sensations, but we all know how many not observing people are streaming to the Kotel at the daring for them moments, and they are so right to do that. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). FACES OF THE KOTEL. Fragment V. 2020.

Tisha B’Av evokes mixed feelings when thinking and seeing the Kotel: oh, if only our Temple would stay erect. At the same time, this symbol of faith, place of consolation, ultimate station of hope stays in its self-sufficient majesty of spirit from the 2nd century BCE, being preserved after devastation of the first Tisha B’Av. 

It is the most poignant reminder to all of us of what the Tisha B’Av is about, And at the same time, it is the message from the High. The most supporting one possible. 

Inna Rogatchi (C). FACES OF THE KOTEL. Fragment III. 2020.

I am looking at the faces on this Kotel and Its Faces artwork ( 2020). I am immensely grateful for being shown them. When our memory, our instrument for survival, is materialised, it arms us with endurance. The whole Jewish history is the story of our endurance. Sometimes, one is lucky to see it in pictures. 

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort by the means of high-class art in challenging times. She is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Inna's family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, Holocaust and post-Holocaust, arts and culture. She is running several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spirituality. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi is the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA).
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