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 online search 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. 
 

In this piece made for my grandfather’s centenary on 24 August 2018, I reflect on the intergenerational connections, inherited silence, on life and living in places of extinction and mass murder. The original text in Russian is below. 

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 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.”

“Мы стремимся узнать как будто бы все о жизни людей, которые существовали до нас, или о нашей собственной жизни. Но мы не знаем наперед, что все мы не можем узнать. Мы все равно производим отбор. И этот отбор есть не просто искусственный отбор, это вместе с тем выбор: отбирая из того, что было, что входит в нас в качестве прошлого, мы выбираемых самих себя. А выбирая самих себя, мы сознательно или бессознательно выбираем будущее.”

Эти слова 30-летней давности моего деда историка Михаила Яковлевича Гефтера врезались в память и сопровождали в 2015-2017 пока я работала над Львовским проектом Пазли Пам’ятi / Fragments of Memory. Они же и привели меня в Одессу, Мариуполь, Херсон, Симферополь, Керчь и Москву. В ночь на 24 августа 2018-го, когда исполнялось сто лет с его рождения, видео ряд из этой поездки по следам предков подстроился под его голос, его слова о прошлом, отборе и выборе.

Одесса
В Одесском архиве, в студенческом деле Давида Блюменфельда (Мишиного дяди, младшего брата моей прабабушки Натальи) нахожу его диплом 1916 года – “Призовое право и великая война”. Заключение: «Пока война будет существовать, до тех пор будут существовать и стремления к неограниченному использованию средств уничтожения и разрушения. Но война, по моему, категория историческая; она исчезнет, как появилась. Государства будущего найдут более разумные способы борьбы.»

По прошествию двадцати лет юридической и дипломатической работы в Одессе, Берлине, Вене и Москве, 23 ноября 1937 года Давида арестуют и обвинят в шпионаже. Миша, студент 2-го курса истфака МГУ, отделается выговором со стандартной формулировкой: «за утрату бдительности, выразившейся в неразоблачении дяди, врага народа». 8 апреля 1938 Военная коллегия Верховного суда СССР приговорит Давида к высшей мере уголовного наказания – расстрелу с конфискацией имущества. Место захоронения – Коммунарка. База данных “расстрельные списка – Коммунарка” сообщает, что 8 апреля расстреляли еще 85 человек. 28 апреля его жену Фриду арестуют и сошлют в лагерь сроком на восемь лет как члена семьи изменника родины. Их сына Володю отправят в детдом. О муже сообщат в 1940 году, что он находится в дальних лагерях без права переписки, а в 1947, что он умер 18 марта 1942 года. После окончания 7-летней детдомовской школы в июне 1941 Володю отправят к тёте Наталье. Она будет преподавать в музучилище пока его не закроют. В первые дни сентября Володя поступит в техникум. Вместе их расстреляют в Симферопольском Рве в декабре 1941. Фрида переживет лагеря. С Мишей они потеряют друг друга из вида на 40 лет. В 1976 они встретятся в Одессе. В 1984 Фрида уйдет из жизни и Миша установит табличку с тремя именами – Фриды, Давида и Володи. Ни Фрида, ни Миша так и не узнают, что Давида расстреляли в 1938.

Одесское Таировское кладбище. Никак не могу найти могилу Фриды. Администратор кладбища рисует схему близлежащих могил. Нахожу. Со всех сторон она заросла грецким орехом. Орех прорвался и внутрь арматуры трех бетонных кубов. Живое дерево, прорастающее сквозь камень.

Симферополь
Получаю специальное разрешение на въезд в Крым от украинских властей, перехожу пешком границу и на закате въезжаю в Симферополь. Двор дома, в котором вырос Миша. Форма треугольника – улицы Одесская и углом Большевистская. Окна комнаты выходили на Греческую церковь. Об этом он писал. А еще писал о чистом, сладком, крымском воздухе. Хожу по старым улочкам Симферополя, виноград еще не поспел, а черешня и вишня повсюду, сладкая сладкая. Симферопольский Ров: “Всем поколениям всем временам” написано на одной гране памятника. Бесконечные поля пшеницы. Сижу, брожу, снимаю, плачу, в блокнот кладу колосок пшеницы. Теперь я знаю, что Давида и Наталью близкие и родные звали Дудя и Тиля. Их маму – Софiя. Возвращение имен.

Москва
Жизнь в Коммунарке. Осенние запахи памяти. 80 лет спустя. Место, где устроили расстрельные ямы, тогда было просекой. Когда закончились расстрелы, между ямами посадили деревья. Улеи, дым, желуди, детская площадка, дача Ягоды, церковные пристройки, колючая проволока на зеленом заборе по периметру территории. Самодельные таблички на деревьях в память о расстрелянных предках. Нет ничего более постоянного чем временное – спонтанность такой памяти в таком месте кажется тем самым способом помнить. Сделаю для следующего приезда и для нашего Дуди.

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

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

In the footsteps of Hanukkah

In the footsteps of Hanukkah

Having grown up in Moscow in an assimilated environment I experienced mixed feelings about the traditions of my grandparents. I moved away from my family at the age of 21 in the attempt to make a new home, first in the Netherlands and then in the UK. It took me many years to discover the medium to express my thoughts and feelings.

My cousin Anya has not moved away to make a new home in a different country. She still lives in Moscow researching Music of Yiddishkayt and performing in Klezmer ensembles. I grew up hearing her play and sing in Russian, later in Yiddish. The sound of her voice is one the dearest memories I have from my ‘Russian Jewish’ childhood. Unprocessed personal and historical traumas in our families and in our country of origin prompt us to search for self-identification through creative narrative of people and places, music and art.

This project’s idea to break down the Ashkenazi Jewish music structure, to look for the beginning is something that might help me to engage with family history and identity, reconnect with my roots and find music within me. By interweaving musical and visual language, we hope to create a dialogue between us and the audience, past and present. And last but not least, we are looking forward to the opportunity to share our journeys with our families and friends, in our home town of Moscow.

Thanks a million to everyone involved and especially to The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation and ROI Community  for their generous support of this project.

And so it comes – our first concert together on December 23, Moscow!

UPDATE December 26: watch this space for the video recordings (two available already, more to come soon)! And here are a few pictures from the concert:

According to this article, some Sephardic Jews with roots in Aleppo, Syria, have a special Hanukkah custom. On each of the eight nights of the holiday, they light an extra flame. This custom has been passed down in families whose ancestors were forced to flee Spain as refugees, when the Alhambra Decree of 1492 set in motion their expulsion for no other reason than their religious identity. Lighting the extra flame has become a hallmark of these Jews; it represents their gratitude for the safety and tolerance they encountered in their adopted homeland: Syria.

Today, Syrian Jewish communities — a blend of these Spanish refugees and others who had been living in that region since ancient times — have been resettled completely because of oppression and migration. Syria, as we know, is now also the source of a horrifying civil war and refugee crisis. Despite the adversity that Jews have faced in Syria, the lighting of an additional flame each night of Hanukkah can still serve to sensitize us to the plight of Syrian refugees, because we, too, were refugees who benefited from the compassion, acceptance and tolerance of strangers in that very land.

And so an extra flame in the video is my response to what happened in the past and is happening now.

Filmmaking and Hackney

Open Cinema festival

I am contributing a video piece for the 24h Hackney film as well as the Hackney archive showreel to the Open Cinema film festival on Saturday November 21 at Open School East, 43 De Beauvoir Rd, N1 5SQ. Do come along if free and up for some quirky, serious, funny, contemporary and historical footage about Hackney.

Read more here

One Sunday Over The Lea

In collaboration with Brian Walker and Peter Young, I submitted this short piece to the My London Film competition, held by the East End Film Festival in partnership with Time Out London and YouTube.

Yesterday we got the news that the film made the competition’s official TOP 15 list and will be screened  this Saturday afternoon at 1.30pm as part of a special programme at One Stop Film Shop, being held in partnership with Little White Lies in Old Street Station.

Hope to see you there for screenings of Top 15 short films about London!

Clorinde @Trangallan

The Clorinde boys – brothers Simone and Andrea Salvatici with David Harris and Derek Yau in the background – performing at Trangallan in Newington Green.
My camera seems to coping just fine.