A sketch for the centenary

My paternal grandfather Mikhail Gefter was a historian, philosopher, intellectual.
As an adult, years after his death
I learned of his pupils throughout the world, 
of his philosophical and historical writings, 
and of the www.gefter.ru platform for social sciences and intellectual thought named after him.
Many called him МЯ (Михаил Яковлевич – Mikhail Yakovlevich).
I called him Misha.  I kept a couple letters from him and a couple of recollections of our time together.
 
I never asked about his childhood when I was little, when I had a chance.
When the question popped up in my head, he was long gone.
I asked my father and my uncle.
 
They never asked either, and МЯ never talked to his two sons
about his pre-war childhood in multi-cultured Crimea,
about his grandmother who adored him,
about growing up without a father,
about losing his mother and cousin in the Holocaust, and his uncle in Stalin’s purges.
 
I knew none of it when in April 2015, out of the blue, an email from my uncle popped up.  Attached were the scans of four postcards sent by my great-grandmother shortly before she was killed in the mass-murder of Jewish population in Crimea in 1941.
It was the first time I heard about her. She had a name. She was a piano teacher.

Two days later at a friend’s birthday party in London I met Olesya Zdorovetska, a musician and composer from Southern Ukraine who now lived in Dublin. We talked about families, politics, arts, languages. Crimea had been annexed in 2014. The war was on between Ukraine and Russia. Many sensitive subjects came up.
 
Olesya invited me to visit her in Dublin in September. 
When September came, Olesya suggested I came with her to Lviv, to the annual Book Forum.  I agreed without a slight hesitation. Those postcards were on my mind, even though Lviv and Crimea are 1000 km apart.  I also felt the urge to revisit my childhood places in the Carpathian Mountains, near Lviv. But most importantly, after years of wanderings, I felt like I was getting closer to finding the right doors.
 
With Olesya and alone,
I explored the cobble streets,         
peeped into Lviv courtyards,     
climbed onto the roofs,
wandered in the cemeteries.
 
At the Book Forum Olesya bought a collection of poetry by Debora Vogel, a female writer, art critic and intellectual, who perished in Lviv ghetto in 1942 and remained in obscurity for a long time. We learned that between the two wars Lviv was this inspiring metropolis for modernist thought in philosophy, mathematics, literary theory and arts, as well as a place of social and ethnic conflicts. It was among Lviv intellectuals and artists, during the period of rising chauvinism and anti-semitism, that the idea of an inclusive and open culture was formed. This redemptive and progressive vision was brutally squashed in the Holocaust, and yet not entirely extinguished. Fragments of it survive to be discovered through scavenging, collecting and juxtaposing.

What emerged was a patchwork of fragments, leads, innuendos and images in my lost and elusive family stories. Fragments of Memory brought me back to those postcards from 75 years ago. Lviv prompted me to recognise similar patterns centering around the figure of my grandfather, a scholar whose life was largely impacted by war, revolution and genocide, the details of which were suppressed. 
 
МЯ was born 100 years ago in Crimea, where he grew up before travelling to Moscow to study History in 1936 and where he met my grandmother, born also in 1918 in Mariupol on the Azov Sea in Southern Ukraine. Neither did she talk to her sons and granddaughters about her childhood. 
 
What about their families? Who were their parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins? Where and how did they live? What did they do during those cataclismic times of Enlightenment, Zionism, Pogroms, Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, World War I, Russian Civil War, raise of Communism, World War II?
 
The search, online and offline, took me to Kerch and Simferopol in Crimea; Odessa, Kherson, Kharkiv, Zhitomir and Rivne in Ukraine; Moscow, St Petersburg, Vologda, Tomsk and Irkutsk in Russia; Lublin in Poland; Berlin in Germany; Lausanne in Switzerland; Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington in the US. 
 

I made this a short video piece ‘A sketch for the centenary’ for the centenary of my grandfather’s birthday on 24 August 2018. As for now the story behind the imagery is in Russian, but with time i will put on my other hat and will be making this work in English.

My grandfather’s voice in the video is an excerpt from the interview recorded by Lorenzo Scaccabarozzi in January 1989: “We aim to learn seemingly everything about the lives of people who lived before us, or about our our own lives. But we do not know beforehand, that we would not be able to find out everything. Either way we are making a selection. And this selection is not an artifical selection, at the same time this is our choice: by choosing from what was before us, what entered us as ‘past’, we choose who we are. And by choosing ourselves, we choose our future, consciously or subconsciously.”

12 Bernstein

It was in the Summer 2016 when I first encountered the story of the derelict building at 12 Sholem Aleichem street (formerly Bernstein street). I came to Lviv to research Debora Vogel and her literary and artistic circles of the inter-war period. Wherever I turned I seemed to hear about the building – Google, resources at the Lviv Centre for Urban History, ad-hoc chats with people at the Centre.

Off I went to find the building. The door was locked. A sign БIБЛIОТЕКА (‘library’) on the adjacent building №14 was my route in – I walked in and sneaked at the back. 

14 Bernstein street, 21 July 2016 (photos by Asya Gefter)

Crumbling walls separating the two buildings №14 and №12, a relatively recent  (January 2015) communist newspaper with a picture of Lenin, some sort of a target shooting board, bits and pieces scattered around.

A couple weeks later Alena Andronatiy called and announced she got the keys to the building. The three of us – Alena, Olesya and myself – met. The world outside stopped to exist when we entered. I lost the sense of time. But we live in the digital age when everything is recorded. The first photograph was taken at 16:30:08, the last one at 17:27:47. It lasted less than an hour what seems a century. The building became a character in our project and film. 

***

The Lviv Jewish museum was opened on 17 June 1934 in the building of the Jewish community on 12 Bernstein street. It immediately became a noticeable phenomenon in the cultural life of the multiethnic Galicia. Its collection included religious artefacts of the 17th-19th centuries (Maksymilian Goldstein Judaica collection) andmodern art.

The custodian of the museum was Ludwik Lille, artist and connoisseur of Jewish relics. He joined Artes, an avant-garde art group which tried surrealism, symbolism, abstractionism, cubism, constructivism and other movements which were in fashion in the European art of that timeheld exhibitions at the Jewish Museum and Vogel wrote about matters close to their area of interests; Henryk Streng, another member of Artes, illuminated Vogel’s prose collection Acacias Blooms well as her poetry books Day Figures and Mannequins.

In early 1940 the communist regime liquidated the Jewish Museum, and its holdings were transferred to the collections of the Industrial Museum and other museums in LvivDespite all the efforts of the Museum administration to save Goldstein and his family, thewere murdered during the Aktion of November 1942.

The same fate as of Debora Vogel and her family.

Ukrainian employees of the Industrial museum saved the artifacts by hiding them in the basement. In 1944 they visited Pavlo Zholtovsky, the director of the newly created Museum of Ethnography and Arts and Crafts, and presented him with the antiquities. In 1948, after the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union issued the resolution “On the Struggle against Rootless Cosmopolitanism,” Zholtovsky received an order to destroy all Jewish artifacts. The Ukrainian scholar, risking his freedom and life, issued to the NKVD a false certificate attesting to the destruction of the antiquities, and then hid them in the attic of the museum.

The people of Lviv discovered the twice-saved collection only in 1990, when the art historian Dr. Faina Petryakova unveiled an exhibit dedicated to the Jewish material and spiritual heritage.

‘Relics of the Jewish World of Galicia’ exhibition is currently on display at the Lviv Ethnography Museum – the very collection that was housed at the Lviv Jewish Museum in the 1930s.

The building of the former Jewish Museum survived too but has become a victim of difficult politics in the Lviv Religious Jewish community in the post-Soviet independent Ukraine.

Will be history obliterated and all memory erased yet again by the recent 2017/18 controversial renovation that might result in turning it into a hotel?

‘sano-r, sana-ris, sana-tur’, 12 Bernstein street, 7 August 2016 (photo by Asya Gefter)

30 April 1978

40 years ago today – Red Saunders recollects the RAR Victoria Park Carnival:

On Sunday 30 April 1978, 80,0000 people gathered in Trafalgar Square, and danced their way through the East End to Victoria Park in Hackney for the first big Rock Against Racism Carnival Against the Nazis. RAR had emerged in reaction to an alarming rise in racist attacks on the streets, and support for the neo-Nazi National Front at the ballot box. Mainstays of the UK pop scene such as Eric Clapton and David Bowie – white musicians capitalising on black music – made statements that further inflamed racial tension. A letter to the music press, written by Red Saunders and signed by a group of fans, voicing their horror at such hypocrisy, quickly gained widespread support. RAR was part of a broader anti-racism movement in the late 1970s, but it has become a symbol of the role that people-led movements and popular culture can play in shaping and influencing attitudes.

From Pop Art to Community Arts in Hackney and beyond

If you did not have a chance to attend last week screening at the 2018 East End Film Festival, the film is available to watch online.

From memories of meeting Andy Warhol to the visuals of Chats Palace and Lenthall Road Printshops, See Red Women’s Workshop and Rock Against Racism movement, the film explores the influence of screen-printing on the Community Arts Movement in Hackney and beyond.

Lviv-London Double Impact

Join us at Pushkin House, London on November 14 for a special evening of imagery, history, words and music with London resident Asya Gefter, who has just launched the ‘Fragments of Memory’ project in Lviv, and Lviv resident Mark Tokar, double bass player and a key figure in the Ukrainian free jazz scene.

Over the past two years, Asya Gefter and Olesya Zdorovetska had been on a journey to discover Debora Vogel, an overlooked intellectual, writer, art critic, the Gertrude Stein of inter-war Lviv. They walked the places Vogel inhabited, exhibited and wrote about. They met people who survived the war and went on living, or were born long after and reconnected with the vanished world. They encountered the story of the former Lviv Jewish museum, a derelict building presently at risk. The work that resulted from this voyage is concerned with the presence and absence of people, with a discontinuous perception of poetic and physical spaces, with personal stories pointing to Lemberg/Lwow/Lviv for present and future generations.

Vogel’s experimental poetry, all written in the 1920s-30s, was, in the spirit of early 20th century European literature, radically avant-garde and attuned to all the modernist minimalisms. Being skilled in Hebrew, Yiddish and Polish, she published essays covering Lviv’s intellectual life and urban landscape, the role of women in society and art. Yet, her name has always been connected with the Polish prose stylist Bruno Schulz. Vogel’s own work received little attention during her life and after her death in Lviv ghetto in 1942.

‘Fragments of Memory’ exhibition at the Lviv Museum of Ideas, September 2017 (photo by Asya Gefter)

The multimedia exhibition was launched at the Lviv Museum of Ideas during the International Book Forum in September 2017. Project research and Lviv exhibition were supported by A-n Travel bursary (UK), Asylum Arts ‘Small Grant’ (US), Kickstarter Crowdfunding campaign, Lviv Book Forum and Lviv Museum of Ideas. The plan is to tour the exhibition and develop a website with project material in English, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, and Yiddish.

Lviv is not only about the past but also about the present. Mark Tokar will play and talk about contemporary music scene in Ukraine, his collaborations in Ukraine and internationally, including the multi-genre projects (visualisations, literature, performance) with Yuri Andrukhovych, one of the leading Ukrainian authors writing today. Among these projects: Endless Journey or Aeneid (multimedia collage based on Yuri Andrukhovych-Ivan Kotliarevskiy with the elements of lecture, concert and banquet). Albert, or the Highest Form of Execution (Albert was created on the base of eponymous story written by Yuri Andrukhovych. In the center of action there is the story of ingenious cheater Albert Vyrozemskiy who agrees to sell his soul to the devil to avoid death penalty. However, the agreement signed with blood did not work. One autumn day in 1641, he was publicly burned in the middle of the Rynok Square in Lviv.

From Pop Art to Community Arts

It has been an absolute joy to work with Peter Young on a film ‘From Pop Art to Community Arts: Hackney in the 1970s-80s’ commissioned for A British Museum Partnership exhibition ‘Warhol to Walker: American prints from pop art to today’.

This special exhibition explores the influence print movements have had on Hackney. Starting with the explosion of pop art in the 1960s, the exhibition displays works on loan from the British Museum by celebrated artists including Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Kara Walker alongside Hackney artists.

The film is displayed at the Hackney Museum from 11 July till 16 September 2017. Once the exhibition is over, the film will be available online. Watch this space!

I can’t thank enough our interviewees, the most wonderful Hackney activists, artists and researchers – Jess Baines, Neil Martinson, Alan May, Ingrid Pollard, Rene Rice, Red Saunders and Rebecca Wilson.

© Asya Gefter

My Europe

The end of the era perhaps? A new chapter? Of history. Of my history.

I spent my twenties struggling and fighting to get the European passport. I finally did, just weeks after I turned 30. Inner drive to be at home in Europe was huge – would not have had the energy and the resources now. London happened to become my adopted home. Not just for my love of bricks, but for its extraordinary diversity of people from all possible walks of life, of all ethnicities, beliefs, ways of thinking, seeing, listening, feeling.

Over the years, I have discovered lots of peculiarities about this fascinating island. I loved this particular joke – “Gales in Channel. Continent isolated.”  Will we able to keep on joking about being an island and not being part of the EU? Of Europe?

I have recently watched a wonderful film ‘Play me something’ by Timothy Neat and John Berger. Here is what John Berger said in the interview for ‘Scotland on Sunday’ in October 1988:

“I think this film would have been impossible to make in England. People won’t sit and listen to a story because they happen to find themselves together like that.” The Scots, he said,  are different in many ways – less complacent, less parochial. “Most importantly maybe for storytelling, the dead are present to them. Not just their personal dead, father or wife. I mean the living experience of the past. In England as in some other consumer-rich societies they have come to believe that although they are part of history they are exempt from it. What connects them to all other people who have lived is lessened”.

I felt the same all these 14 years I lived in the UK. I always wanted to prove myself wrong.

Acacias Bloom

Last year I have been awarded an Asylum Arts Grant to collaborate with a Ukrainian musician Olesya Zdorovetska to research Debora Vogel, an overlooked Polish Yiddish writer of poetry, prose, literary and art criticism from the 1930s avant-garde Lviv.

And so in July 2016, supported by the Asylum Arts (US) and a-n Travel Bursary  (UK) off we went on our audio-visual journey to Galicia of Debora Vogel. The time has flown by fast – it has been an enriching and wonderful experience that we hope to build upon by making a film next year.

In the meantime, I will be sharing the various steps of our research process in the A-n blog and on my vimeo channel.

Acacias Bloom collage1 Acacias Bloom collage2 Acacias Bloom collage3 Acacias Bloom collage4

‘Seed to Harvest’ Sukkot performance

Thanks to the continuing support of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, I organised a Sukkot meal and live performance event in Dublin on October 16, 2016. The Quartet (Olesya Zdorovetska – voice, Nick Roth – saxophones, Olie Brice – double bass, Matthew Jacobson – percussion) performed Seeds II, a study of plant genetics composed by Nick Roth, followed by a free improvisation. The visuals for the performance were created from the material I collected in Ukraine during my 2016 research trip funded by the Asylum Arts (US) and a-n Travel Bursary (UK).

The Festival of Sukkot begins on Tishri 15, the fifth day after Yom Kippur. It is quite a drastic transition, from one of the most solemn holidays of the year to one of the most joyous. Sukkot is so unreservedly joyful that it is commonly referred to as Z’man Simchateinu (זְמַן שִׂמְחָתֵנוּ), the Season of Rejoicing.

The origins of Sukkot are both historical and agricultural. Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. Agriculturally, Sukkot celebrates the gathering of the harvest.

Sukkot foods are all about the autumn harvest – apples, pears, sweet potatoes, carrots, and other root vegetables that are readily available this time of year. On each day of the holiday it is mandatory to perform a waving ceremony with the Four Species: fronds from the myrtle, date, willow trees, along with a yellow etrog (the citron fruit).

Happiness doubles when you share it. Joined by people from Australia, England, Finland, Iran, Ireland, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine we had a memorable evening full of music, visuals, food, conversations and singing.

sukkot-collage2 sukkot-collage3
sukkot-collage1

Ukraine..August 24

Today is August 24 and Ukraine celebrates 25th anniversary of Independence Day. On a personal note, my grandfather was born on this day 98 years ago, in 1918. Interestingly, The Ukrainian People’s Republic, a predecessor of modern Ukraine, proclaimed its independence on 25 January 1918 (simple maths means he was a 2months baby in the womb then). His grandparents were from Kherson and so was his mother and uncles. Though my granddad was born in Crimea. His mother, cousin and uncle were tragically killed, by Nazis in Crimea and by Soviets in Moscow. I will never tire of repeating my graddad’s words – Holocaust is a genocide against everyone (Холокост это геноцид против всех).

Having just spent 5 weeks in Ukraine with most wonderful people, I would like to thank all those on the pictures below and those whom I was too shy to photograph. There was no single time that my Moscow Russian dialect (accent) made anyone frown. Everyone was so patient with my misunderstandings (or often complete lack of understanding) of beautiful Ukrainian language. And so many people helped me and Olesya in our research of Debora Vogel. I will be back in Lviv in a couple of weeks and today I will go to the Armenian cemetery in Moscow where half of my Jewish family is buried. Those, who once lived in Mariupol, Simferopol, Dnepropetrovsk, Kyiv and ended up in Moscow. And I’m so grateful to be able to be here today with my dad.

Ukraine people_1

Betya Rechister and Boris Dorfman

Ukraine people_2

Alexandra Somish

Ukraine people_3

Jason Francisco

Ukraine people_4

Olga Pogribna-Kokh

Ukraine people_5

Jurko Kokh

Ukraine people_6

Pani Stefa

Ukraine people_7

Taras Beniakh

Ukraine people_8

Dana Pinczewska

Ukraine people_9

Danylo Pertsov

Ukraine people_10

Olga Kupchinskaya

Ukraine people_11

Jurko Prohasko

Ukraine people_12

in Burshtyn

Ukraine people_13

Olga Sukha and Olesya Zdorovetska

Ukraine people_14

Justik

Ukraine people_15

Edward Pastukh

Ukraine people_16

Alexandra Scherbakova

Ukraine people_17

Irina Garasinyak

Ukraine people_18

Alina Datsko

Ukraine people_1 thumbnail
Ukraine people_2 thumbnail
Ukraine people_3 thumbnail
Ukraine people_4 thumbnail
Ukraine people_5 thumbnail
Ukraine people_6 thumbnail
Ukraine people_7 thumbnail
Ukraine people_8 thumbnail
Ukraine people_9 thumbnail
Ukraine people_10 thumbnail
Ukraine people_11 thumbnail
Ukraine people_12 thumbnail
Ukraine people_13 thumbnail
Ukraine people_14 thumbnail
Ukraine people_15 thumbnail
Ukraine people_16 thumbnail
Ukraine people_17 thumbnail
Ukraine people_18 thumbnail

London Pride

Bright, festive, proud, out-spoken, warm, open, welcoming..