Speak Memory is by four recipients of the Blueprint Fellowship, and is loosely tied together by common themes of Russian-Jewish immigrant identity, artists’ ties to the historic past, and the connection to our heritage that we feel in everyday life. The exhibit is a little confusing, but quite worth the 10 second trip to the Kraft Center auditorium to check out.
The most interesting part of the exhibit was Yuliya Levit’s presentations of the stories of five Russian-Jewish immigrants who lived in Russia or the Ukraine during WWII. Levit, motivated by the stories of her grandfather, who was in a Russian platoon responsible for repairing tanks, sought to preserve the disappearing memories of a time and place very foreign to us. The result is a collection of almost unbelievable stories. Anyone with any interest in history will be riveted by the recollections of a translator for German war prisoners, a community service and labor enforcer, an orphan rescued by a childless couple who shared his last name, a man imprisoned at 19 for not returning his work suit, and a scientist at a rocket testing factory. Photographs of these men and women are displayed right next to their stories, making their incredible stories concrete.
The exhibit’s paintings were also enjoyable. Irina Sheynfeld contributed a series of portraits of her generation of Russian-Jewish immigrants. Some are bold, with bright backgrounds and grim-faced subjects, while others are softer, pastel images of clouded figures. All look concerned or distracted. While the portraits are captivating, more context about the series’ relation to the whole exhibit would have been useful. Tanya Levina’s creation, “Ghosts of the Ancient City”, is a large painting of a cityscape in riotous colourful strokes. The city blends the ancient past with the everyday to demonstrate their connection.
Katya Makson’s piece “Inner Navigation” is an interactive sculpture which explores the idea of memory as a transitional ritual. It is a grey fabric tent with a map made from different textures on the inside. Each participant is meant to kneel inside and explore the inner map by touch. However, as the sculpture was presented, without explanation and next to a stack of chairs, with a string across the tent’s opening, it was challenging to engage with.
Overall, Speak Memory is worth a visit for anyone interested in Russian-Jewish identity, or simply wanting to spend a study break engrossed in the experiences and emotions of a fascinating heritage. Speak Memory is in the Kraft Center Auditorium for the next 3 weeks.