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Unspeakable: The Artist as Witness to the Holocaust at Imperial War Museum
Edith Birkin, A Camp of Twins - Auschwitz 1980-1982. Acrylic on composition hardboard, 914 mm x 712 mm IWM ART 15588

LONDON.- Prompted by a number of remarkable recent acquisitions, Unspeakable is the first opportunity to see together the different artistic responses to the Nazi persecution of the Jews of Europe, from the Imperial War Museum’s Art collection. The paintings of the British war artists who documented the aftermath of the liberation of camps are shown alongside the art produced by survivors, now living in this country, and a series of contemporary artists.

Unspeakable opens with Morris Kestleman’s 1943 painting Lama Sabachthani (Why have you forsaken me?), a rare British artistic response to news of the atrocities known to be taking place against the Jews in occupied Poland.

Following the liberation of Belsen in April 1945 British War Artists were brought into close contact with the stark realities of the Nazi concentration camps. Unspeakable will include work by Leslie Coles, Doris Zinkeisen, Eric Taylor and Mary Kessell who responded to the overwhelmingly distressing scenes with images that sought to convey detail and narrative.

At the end of the Second World War a number of Holocaust survivors revisited their experiences and memories through paintings and drawings. Survivors Alicia Melamed Adams, Roman Halter and Edith Birkin who settled in Britain after the war have created work that captures the ongoing legacy of loss, desperation and separation.

The exhibition will conclude with work by contemporary artists who have reacted to their own experience of Holocaust sites. These reactions, from artists a generation removed from the events, are exemplified by Darren Almond’s Border and Paul Ryan’s Concentrate.




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