Monday, 18 June 2007

Theatre of Memory

Charlotte, standing, reads a letter
[pic linked from
Jewish Historical Museum Amsterdam]

Mon 18 Jun

Centre for German-Jewish Studies
University of Sussex

Subtitle: the Allo-thanatography of Charlotte Salomon's Leben? oder Theater?
- I bet you wish you hadn't asked!

A fascinating talk by Griselda Pollock on Charlotte Salomon's major work (Life? or Theatre? - collection at the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam). Salomon must be one of the most inventive, personal, challenging and unknown artists of the 20th century. Life? or Theatre? consists of over 900 gouaches accompanied by handwritten commentaries, in which she portrays the events, relationships and emotions, the big and little dramas of everyday life in a family and friendship circle very much like her own in the Berlin of the 1930s. Her annotations include references to the tunes and songs she associated with particular scenes - said to be what she was humming as she painted - such as: Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, and the popular songs 'I heard a babbling brook', 'I'm busy night and day, no time for rest and play'.

Born in 1917, Charlotte somehow managed to study art in Hitler's Berlin, but after the Kristallnacht pogrom in 1938 she and members of her family fled the horrors of Nazi Germany, and must have hoped they had found safety in the South of France. There she more or less completed Life? or Theatre? However the consequences of war soon caught up with her, and in 1943 Charlotte was deported along with thousands of other German Jews in France, first to a concentration camp near Paris, then to Auschwitz, where, like most of the others, she was murdered. She was 26, and 5 months pregnant.

Shortly before, she had given the gouaches to a friend of the family, saying: 'Take good care of them. They are my whole life.'

The 1998 Life? or Theatre? exhibition at the Royal Academy remains one of the most affecting I have ever seen, and today I was lucky enough to meet Monica Bohm Duchen, the curator of that exhibition, and have the chance to thank her for it.

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