Holocaust educational centre commissions four artists to illuminate history

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Holocaust educational centre commissions four artists to illuminate history

Working in ceramics, video, installations, writing and sound, the creatives will take up residency at Holocaust Centre North at the University of Huddersfield

Matt Smith, one of four new artists taking up residency at Holocaust Centre North
Matt Smith, one of four new artists taking up residency at Holocaust Centre North

Four artists have been commissioned to take part in the second year of an artistic residency run by a Holocaust centre in the north of England.

Holocaust Centre North’s ground-breaking Memorial Gestures initiative, funded by the Ernest Hecht Charitable Trust, was launched by the educational Centre in 2022. It gives leading and emerging artists the opportunity to create brand new artwork inspired by its archives and in response to its themes and collections.

Based at the University of Huddersfield, Holocaust Centre North not only tells the global story of the Holocaust but does so through over 120 local stories and materials from survivors who subsequently created new lives in the north of England.

Over the next nine months, artists Maud Haya-Baviera, Irina Razumovskaya, Ariane Schick and Matt Smith – who work in a variety of different mediums including ceramics, video, installations, writing and sound – will take up residency to fully immerse themselves both virtually and in person at Holocaust Centre North.

Through a series of bespoke workshops, talks, oral history and first hand interactions with survivors and their families, archivists, historians and the Centre’s small dedicated team of volunteers and staff – the artists will explore the collection.

The ultimate aim is that they will then be able to respond to and translate these memories, artefacts and accounts which cover themes of discrimination, displacement, trauma, migration, loss, memory and hope.

Irina Razumovskaya

This artistic exploration of the archives will culminate at the end of the residency in each artist producing a brand new piece of work in their chosen medium – inspired by history but which still resonates today.

These will premiere at a Memorial Gestures exhibition at Holocaust Centre North in September next year.

Matt Smith told Jewish News: “I’m delighted to be selected for Memorial Gestures. I’ve been interested in the effects of the Holocaust on LGBTQ individuals and their ongoing persecution following the liberation of the camps in 1945. I hope that this research will enable me to explore and commemorate some of those stories which are often less remembered.”

Work by Matt Smith

Last year’s inaugural artists – Jordan Baseman, Laura Fisher and April Lin 林森, presented works across video, textiles, print, sound and installation.

Fisher’s Knitted Red Cross Blankets were based on archived letters and telegrams to and from concentration camp prisoners and their loved ones.  The Gaps Between the Unforgettable by Lin presented as a multi-channel video installation featured items from the archives being handled or juxtaposed against the images of hands – signifying perhaps the handing down of stories and whilst open to interpretation also gives a sense of the present handling the past; whilst Baseman’s single channel video These Were  not Simple Deaths dissected audio testimony of Lillian Black, in which she explores the relationship with her father Eugene Black – a founding member of Holocaust Centre North and a survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

At a time of increasing antisemitism and growing Holocaust denial, coupled with the reality that fewer first generation Holocaust Survivors will be alive to tell their stories in the next few years – Holocaust Centre North faces a serious challenge as educators to ensure that the atrocities of Nazi persecution are remembered and fully felt by future generations without recourse to living eyewitnesses.


Memorial Gestures was created and launched to directly address these growing concerns and issues and to help reflect on the impact of the Holocaust in northern communities who might see themselves as removed from the horrors of this defining chapter of global history. It is also a more accessible way of engaging younger and wider audiences with this challenging subject matter.

Holocaust Centre North director, Alessandro Bucci said: “As we embark on the second year of Memorial Gestures, our pride in this singular endeavour is profound. Our work extends from meticulous archive research to our partnership with the University of Huddersfield and our learning programme for schools.

“At the same time, we are steadfast in our belief that artistic responses to our growing collection can illuminate the history and memory of the Holocaust for future generations, highlight its contemporary relevance, and offer representation what has been lost, stolen, destroyed or doesn’t take material form — the aspects of history that cannot be consigned to archives.

Ariane Schick – Yellow Clock – Canvas, organza, clock_2021

“This dedication distinguishes us as the sole organisation in the UK, and one of a few worldwide, committed to exploring remembrance through the medium of artistic practice. Our approach transcends the mere recounting of history; it is an active re-imagining of remembrance for the contemporary era. The wholehearted and dedicated involvement of the survivor community last year has deeply affirmed our conviction in this innovative approach.”

Paula Kolar, curator of contemporary practices, Holocaust Centre North, adds: “We are really thrilled with the four artists who have been commissioned to continue our exploration of what artistic research can contribute to Holocaust memorialisation and mediations of traumatic histories. They and we will build on the success of Memorial Gestures inaugural residency last year, which was a personal honour to work on.

“Working with memories from the last of the first generation survivors and turning traumatic histories into artworks with contemporary relevance in engaging, thought-provoking and ethical ways is an incredibly challenging and daunting task. But we are so hugely excited to be able to support them in their journey and to see their ideas and their individual artistic and emotional responses take shape over the coming months.”

To find out more about Holocaust Centre North, click here.

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