This project involves interviewing and painting portraits ofHolocaust and Residential School survivors. There is a connection between the two groups, both victims of different “final solutions”, forged by the shared experience of living through the horrors of attempted literal, and cultural genocide. Shared empathy between the two groups seemingly helps to lighten the weight of memory. I am of Jewish heritage with family roots in Eastern Europe. My ancestors suffered under anti-semitic regimes prior to and during WW II. Realizing that first-hand accounts are dying with the Holocaust survivors, I felt compelled to preserve their pain and resilience through their faces. I also desire to learn about and try to understand the experiences of Residential School Survivors, as a member of a culture with a dark history of persecution, and as a Canadian, who has lived ignorant of these events for too long. The inclusion of people from both groups promises to tell a powerful story.
Through dialogue during sittings and using a combination of sketches and photographic images, I will produce eighteen portraits exploring shared trauma and personal endurance and triumph. Eighteen is the number that corresponds to the Hebrew word “Chai” which means “Iife”. There is text included some pieces finished to date, sharing some of the poignant words spoken by survivors during interviews. The title of the project is “They didn’t know we were seeds”, which completes a proverb that begins “They buried us”, speaking to incredible human resilience. The subject in each painting gazes directly at the viewer, disrupting attempts at voyeurism and offering the possibility of direct dialogue and engagement. It is my hope that providing the opportunity for others to see these works will allow these survivors to continue to tell their stories in a unique and ongoing way.