In 2011, Sara Davidmann discovered that her mother had recorded, “with incredible details”, his entire life in journals and notebooks. The same year, the artist presents “My Mother’s Notebooks”, his first exhibition linked to his family, then “Ken. To be destroyed”, “the story of a family secret” on the transgender coming out of a family member.
For ten years, the artist has combined his creative work with his family history. His latest project, Mongrel 1, penetrates even further into its roots and their enigmas. “It started with the discovery of a photo album and notes written in German and never translated. My cousin Linda had inherited it from her mother, my aunt Susi. Susi was my father’s sister Manfred. My father and my aunt survived the Holocaust by fleeing Nazi Berlin aboard the Kindertransport. They arrived in Britain in 1939, my father was 14 and my aunt 17 “, she tells us.
For a long time, until well after the death of her father, Sara Davidmann recounts having “nothing known about the German Jewish side of [sa] family”. “My father was never able to speak about his experience of growing up as a young Jewish boy in Nazi Berlin, the traumatic events he experienced before his evacuation, the members of his family killed in the Holocaust or his evacuation.”, she continues.
This “chapter too painful to revisit”, Sara Davidmann decided to grab it with her bare hands after discovering this photo album and the notes that came with it. Throughout the pages, the artist felt more or less linked to the features that appeared before her eyes, to the smiles, to the looks of people she would never meet. She was also shocked to discover that many faces disappeared from images after WWII.
Archival footage and blood
At the same time as Sara Davidmann went in search of “traces of life” concerning these intimate anonymous, she produced works bringing together “reproductions of discovered photos, documents and historical research “. “They don’t just show my family history, they also reveal the deep connection I feel to this story as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.”
Faced with this very particular mourning, the artist produced chemigrams (a technique of creating images from chemical processes, without a camera) mixing past and present:
“In the darkroom, I mixed my blood with the photo developer so that the prints were made from my blood, creating a direct connection between myself, the past as seen through the photos and the Continuity of my lineage. Layers of chemicals and blood, photographic bleach, design and scratches on the surface were used simultaneously to erase and reveal the original image. “
In addition to photo bleaching, the photographer explains having “used fire”, an element “more extreme, more dangerous”, which she did not always master. An important practice for her, descending from a dramatic story.
The photo book resulting from this project, Mongrel 1, allowed Sara Davidmann to discover that, while some members of her family had been killed in Auschwitz and Theresienstadt, others had survived and fled to Shanghai, France or Berlin, thanks to false documents. But more than simply tackling his personal story, the project has a universal scope, concludes the artist: “The reactions to the book have been very powerful. The readers have been very moved. It means a lot to me that this work touches people.”
Mongrel 1 from Sara Davidmann is available from Gost Books editions.