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Art and the Holocaust: Understanding Aesthetic Experience as Empowerment

Posted by:
November 20, 2013

What role can the experience of art play in our understanding of the Holocaust? We attempt to answer this question Thursday, March 14 at 3:40pm in Lagerquist Concert Hall, as Assistant Professor Heather Mathews examines artworks as tools of empowerment. First we look at paintings and objects made post-war to address the issue of German guilt, and end with a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.”

We’ll explore the individual empowerment of artists who are survivors and artworks made by sympathetic artists, which empower a society as a whole. In survivors’ artwork, they consider the ways their lives have been, and continue to be, impacted by the Holocaust as young children.

“Such individual expressions—personal histories, memory of the losses endured—give a specificity to a crime that, at times, seems too vast for comprehension,” Mathews writes. “And, importantly, these expressions help us to understand how it is possible for the survivor to persevere, perhaps even to flourish, in spite of the trauma that shadows their early lives.”

Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time” was premiered during World War II in Stalag VIII-A, a prisoner-of-war camp in Görlitz, Germany, outdoors and in the rain, on January 15, 1941. Written and performed during their internment, Messiaen performed on piano with musicians he met on the journey to the camp. They played on decrepit instruments to an audience of fellow prisoners and guards.   PLU Music faculty – Cameron Bennett, piano, Svend Ronning, violin, Craig Rine, clarinet, and Richard Treat, cello – will perform the entire monumental work and Bennett will offer some opening comments.

This event is the second event in the 2013 School of Arts + Communication (SOAC) annual Focus Series, under this year’s theme: “Empowerment” and is held in conjunction with the Powell-Heller Holocaust Conference.  The event is free and open to the community. This event will be streamed live.

Image credit: Stolpersteine