ICSLAC Talks is an intellectual forum which brings together faculty and students from across campus with high-level visitors to work collaboratively on ideas that matter in Cultural Theory, Memory Studies, Indigenous Studies, Digital Culture, Museum Studies, Gender and Sexuality studies, and Transnational Studies. Past speakers have included Shu-mei Shih, Françoise Lionnet, Terry Smith, Kobena Mercer, Jolene Rickard, and Homi Bhabha.

2021 ICSLAC talks Lecture
“Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust”

Dr. Erica Lehrer, Professor in the Departments of History and Sociology-Anthropology, Concordia University

Tuesday March 16, 6:00 pm (Zoom lecture)

Register by March 15 using your Carleton email address. A confirmation email will detail information about joining the lecture. Please note: attendees without a Zoom account will need to use the link in the confirmation email.

The Institute for Comparative Studies in Literature, Art and Culture (ICSLAC) at Carleton University is delighted to announce that the 2021 ICSLAC talks lecture will be delivered by Dr. Erica Lehrer from Concordia University. Entitled “Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust”, Professor Lehrer’s lecture investigates whether inanimate objects can store and communicate traumatic memory that cannot be directly expressed. Her talk focuses on ‘folk art’ made by non-professional Polish artists – many of them village laborers – documenting the German Nazi occupation of Poland and the Holocaust. Made largely in the 1960s and 70s, these objects are uncanny: at times deeply moving, at others grotesque, they can also be disturbing for the ways they impose Catholic idioms on Jewish suffering, or upend accepted roles of victim, perpetrator, and bystander.

Dr. Lehrer introduces forgotten works by some of Poland’s best known “folk” artists from the postwar socialist People’s Republic of Poland, recently re-discovered in Polish and German ethnographic museums and private collections. Never before treated as a genre, these objects are complex artworks born of various impulses: their creators were artists, but also collectors, ethnographers, curators, and ideologues. The oldest example is a painting from ca. 1948 by Sławomir Kosiniak from Zalipie, a village famous for its decorative floral motifs. Recently discovered in the archives of the Kraków Ethnographic Museum, it presents the round-up of local Jews. The most recent work is Jedwabne by Jan Kowalczyk, commissioned by a German collector in 2017. These “awkward objects,” which fall outside the accepted visual language of Holocaust representation, provoke profound reactions in viewers, and raise complex questions about the relationship between art and traumatic memory.

Dr. Erica Lehrer is a sociocultural anthropologist and curator. She is a Professor in the departments of History and Sociology-Anthropology at Concordia University, Montreal, where she also is Founding Director of the Curating and Public Scholarship Lab (CaPSL). She is the author of Jewish Poland Revisited: Heritage Tourism in Unquiet Places (2013); and co-editor of Curatorial Dreams: Critics Imagine Exhibitions (2016); Jewish Space in Contemporary Poland (2015); and Curating Difficult Knowledge: Violent Pasts in Public Places (2011), as well as publishing numerous articles. In 2013 she curated the exhibit Souvenir, Talisman, Toy at the Kraków Ethnographic Museum (MEK) in Poland, and in 2014 published the accompanying book Lucky Jews and the online exhibit www.luckyjews.com. She is currently at work on the collaborative project Awkward Objects of Genocide, which resulted in the exhibition Terribly Close: Polish Vernacular Artists Face the Holocaust at MEK in 2018-19.