The Deconstruction of the Heroic Maternal Figure in Holocausts and Post-Holocaust Art of women

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Historians and art historians such as Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Sybil Milton and Judy Baumel have identified the central place the maternal figure holds in Holocaust and post-Holocaust art and visual commemoration. In most accounts chosen by scholars the mother is portrayed alongside her children, protecting them until death. Thus, her figure represents the ultimate symbol of victimhood, as well as the embodiment of feminine heroism and the paradigm of appropriate motherly behavior. In this lecture I propose to question the validity of this traditional maternal image in Holocaust art and its scholarship. I will bring to light intriguing images that destroy the figure of the good and heroic mother. The new analysis is a result of an examination of survivors works that have not been discussed so far, and an extension of the time range through which the theme has so far been studied, which means that the images in question reflect not only the experiences of mothers during the Holocaust, but also the influence of the aftermath of the Holocaust trauma on the role of motherhood. This analysis as well as the creation of these works is a result of changes in Holocaust scholarship and consciousness, developments in the lives of the survivors, and especially the particular perspective of the second and third generations as well as feminism. The lecture is divided into three parts. In the first part I will present early works by survivors who created images of mothers breaking the basic taboos of motherhood – mothers abandoning and suffocating their children. These kinds of images were not discussed previously in Holocaust art scholarship, similar to the literature and survivors' testimonies on this subject which until recent years were silenced or marginalized. In the second part I will discuss the deconstruction of the symbol of the good mother, which became fully embodied in the art of daughters of Holocaust survivors. Their artworks relate to unresolved issues of their mothers' past and devote special attention to the intricate relationships with their survivor mothers. In the final part I will talk about second and third generation to the Holocaust artists who relate to their feelings of anxiety regarding their own motherhood in light of the Holocaust trauma, which they have inherited from previous generations.


ConferenceThe Holocaust and Motherhood, Holocaust Research Institute, University of London
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