Israeli-born artist and Maitland Cemetery

February 22, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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Hanna Kay’s paintings of the Jewish cemetery in Maitland are currently being exhibited in Moree before being shown in Melbourne next month.

The exhibition will open at the Maitland Regional Art Gallery on Sunday, May 30, following its current renovations. The Gallery commissioned the work.

The Melbourne exhibition will be held at the Jewish Museum of Australia towards the end of March.

The artist, who now lives in country NSW, has openly written her thoughts relating to the work…

from Hanna Kay

As much as I believe I have detached myself from the events that make my history, I cannot be free from interacting with them. I feel like a molecule in a thread of Jewishness.

Jewish people are called the people of the Book. Over 4000 tumultuous years they have held on to the Word and to the hermeneutics and commentaries that have been added over the years. I have been trying to remember millennia of cultural narrative that flow in my blood and had been imprinted in me while growing up. I am sifting through stories, legends, mythologies, historical facts, contradictions, and poetry that have oozed into my psyche and shaped identity. This exhibition attempts to address the connections between this mythical storyline and my biography, creating a broader narrative which resonates with other peoples and cultures.

I went to the cemetery in Maitland. It was my third visit to this surreal place. The wind was carrying smell of horse manure from nearby paddocks. I was hoping to get a breakthrough. I was hoping that being there; in a graveyard surrounded by the vast sky, fences, and farm machinery I will see a way into the artwork. All I could see was Hebrew letters racing toward me from the headstone. Almost 200 years ago, a craftsman had engraved the letters into the hard stones in memory of fathers, mothers, sons and daughters. Most likely that craftsman did not even understand the words he/she had been asked to carve. Today, I read the marking on the stones and translated them into possible images on a canvas – thus transcending their meaning yet again.

Standing by the Hunter River in Maitland. The gentle waves and the clear horizon a picture of tranquility and wholesomeness, shattered only by soiled yellow foam along the waterline. Once this waterway carried the hopes of people strange to this environment. Now, not even a km away was a plot of land documenting their lives and incongruous culture.

A cemetery is a place that matters – a place of rest.

The first thing I saw was tall grass overtaking the weather-worn tombstones. The yellow grass swayed in the gentle wind, turning silvery-green where the field met the blue horizon. A wire fence defined the block of land where the gravestones were arranged in skewed rows. Behind the fence, in a paddock that stretched behind the horizon, a horse was eyeing the overgrown grass in the cemetery. Hidden in the grass was an alphabet spelling unthinkable stories.

Do I have a genuine empathy to the subject? I am carried away by the excitement the concept generates. But I am also overwhelmed by the unknown journey toward resolving the almost impossible challenge I put in front of my artistic self. Migration, displacement, immigration, alienation, hopes, shattered dreams, light, shadows, past, future, heritage, fixed tradition, are all narratives which I do not want to embark upon. I don’t want to use obvious symbols of religion and race. Also, I don’t wish angst generated by such a subject to come through the images. Instead I would like to find the light and the lightness in the threads that are woven throughout our Jewish heritage.

J-Wire publishes an outstanding video of the project. The video features noted broadcaster Philip Adams.

waterways from leslie wand on Vimeo.

Hanna Kay has published “Undertow”…a book recording the development of the Maitland Cemetery Art project.

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