Memorial Gestures exhibition launches Thursday 18 May (until 27 July) 2023 in Huddersfield

Emotive artefacts including letters posted from Nazi concentration camps have inspired a temporary exhibition in Huddersfield.

The project – called Memorial Gestures – has seen three artists take up residency at the Holocaust Centre North archive and visitors’ centre for six months.

Working alongside the Centre’s small team, Holocaust survivors and their families, their mission was to explore how art can be used help to keep survivors’ stories alive once the generation that directly experienced the Nazi genocide is no longer around to tell their stories directly.

With the end of WWII now 78 years ago, the youngest Holocaust survivors with any memories of the period are now in their 80s, whilst their children – the second generation – are aged 60+.

Artists Jordan Baseman, Laura Fisher and April Lin spent time getting to know the Centre’s public and archived collections, which feature thousands of photographs, letters, objects and audio and video interviews with survivors. In response, they produced a number of works of art including textiles, video, sound, sculpture and prints. The exhibition was masterminded by Centre director Alessandro Bucci and has been curated by Paula Kolar.

For artist Laura Fisher, it was learning of West Yorkshire’s rich textile heritage that led her to create a number of tactile objects for the exhibition, including blankets and a felt book.

Stitched into her colourful cotton knitted blankets are reproductions of handwritten words, sent in letters from men imprisoned in concentration camps to their loved ones in the outside world. They read Millionen kusse auch euer bruder (Millions of kisses to your brother too) and Ich warte sehnsuchtig auf nachricht von euch (I longingly wait for a message from you).

The other two artists turned to the moving image. April Lin’s multi-channel video installation In The Memory House explores the role of the northern Holocaust archive as a portal between past and the present. It features recent footage shot by the artist of Holocaust survivors, now in their 80s and 90s, alongside photographs and objects from the archive that illuminate their earlier lives.

And Jordan Baseman’s video These Were Not Simple Deaths takes as its starting pointa 2016 interview with Lilian Black OBE. Daughter of a Bergen-Belsen concentration camp survivor, Lilian was founder of Holocaust Centre North and died from Covid 19 in 2020 at the age of just 69. As Lilian speaks about her accidental discovery of her father Eugene Black’s experiences as a prisoner, we see ancient trees, just coming into leaf.

Laura said: “When I first visited the Centre, I was initially overwhelmed and the scale of the tragedy felt incomprehensible. I remember sitting in the bedroom of my Airbnb, a pit in my stomach, feeling like nothing I could do would possibly be enough. How could I create art that would make those affected feel seen, cared about, witnessed?

“I hope the work I have created as part of Memorial Gestures helps others to understand the depths of what was lost during the Holocaust-what was stolen from families whose lives were irrevocably changed.”

Paula Kolar, curator of contemporary practices, Holocaust Centre North, said: “It is an incredibly challenging task to be mediating these traumatic histories into artworks. Continuous reflections on ethics, representation and empathy are needed and this can feel like an isolating and daunting process when working alone.

“But by exchanging and sharing their research with the group via regular Zoom calls, I hope the three artists have felt supported in this difficult process.”

Alessandro Bucci, director, Holocaust Centre North, said: “In an age of growing Holocaust denial, we face a serious challenge as educators.

“How do we ensure that the atrocities of the Nazi genocide are remembered and fully felt by future generations when we can no longer rely on living eyewitnesses?

“Holocaust Centre North’s Memorial Gestures exhibition has been produced in response to our growing collections of documentary evidence of Holocaust history, survivors’ testimony, and key national and international debates in this field.

“We believe that producing sensitive and well researched artistic responses are the best way to continue to engage future generations with the history and memory of the Holocaust and exploring the ways in which attention to the past can inspire creative action in the present.”

Holocaust Centre North will be recruiting three new artists in September to continue the project.

Memorial Gestures has been funded by the Ernest Hecht Charitable Foundation and the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Memorial Gestures launches at Dai Hall, Piazza Shopping Centre, Unit 29/30, Victoria Lane, Huddersfield HD1 2QF on Thursday 18 May 5.30-8.30pm. There will be artists’ talks and film showings. The exhibition continues there until 27 May and then moves to Holocaust Centre North until 27 July