For contemporary international arts and music organisation, FOJAM, it’s imperative that the younger generation of the Jewish community remains engaged with our history and culture. This is especially true in relation to Holocaust remembrance and commemoration.
Last year, to coincide with Yom Hashoah, the organisation presented Uprising: Songs of Resistance, co-curated by Sian Darling from Museum of Inherited Memories. While the feedback from artists and audiences alike was mostly unanimous in its praise, some were reluctant about an arts organisation presenting an event on or around Yom Hashoah.
Artistic director Lior Albeck-Ripka didn’t want to give up though.
“We had work to do on getting the tone and content right and ensure that we in no way disrespected the history of our ancestors or minimised the horrors of the mass extermination of the Jewish people during the Shoah,” she told The AJN.
“We asked ourselves what else we can do to activate commemoration, so that we can honour, mourn, connect and switch ourselves on to engage with the Holocaust in meaningful ways.”
The result is FOJAM’s production for this year, When Women Speak of War: Artists Reckon with Wars Declared and Hidden – a world premiere, one-night-only event.
Inspired by cultural historian Maria Tumarkin’s powerful keynote speech from last year’s Uprising: Songs of Resistance, Albeck-Ripka realised that Tumarkin would be the perfect person to collaborate with on an event, especially considering Tumarkin’s background on intergenerational trauma.
“Maria and I started with discussions about women and war, women in war, how the aftermath of war affects women and the little we hear about women’s narratives when it comes to histories and stories of war,” Albeck-Ripka explained.
“We took inspiration from the Nobel prize-winning Ukraine-born giant of testimonial literature Svetlana Alexievich who wrote The Unwomanly Face of War. The novel is a historical book about war from the perspectives of women in Russia mostly during WWII. Alexievich writes, ‘When women speak of war they say nothing or almost nothing of what we are used to reading and hearing about.’”
When Women Speak of War presents 14 artists including writers, musicians, singers, poets and actors portraying the trauma of genocide and war across distinct but deeply interrelated contexts, described by Albeck-Ripka as “a multi-art form event whereby musicians, writers and performers will grapple with how we commemorate and memorialise the Holocaust, genocide and war.”
Albeck-Ripka explains that alongside commemorating the Holocaust, the event also looks at the horrors that continue to take place around the world, “from Bosnia, to Sudan, Afghanistan, Australia and now Ukraine – and sadly, there are so many more examples not listed here”.
The show, which is directed by Virginia Proud, who most recently directed Kadimah Yiddish Theatre’s production of Yentl, features a varied line-up of performers, including Bosnian-Australian musician Nela Trifkovic and Bosnian-Australian writer and critic Dženana Vucic who have come up with the most beautiful and harrowing piece about the Bosnian war. It also features Ukrainian and Russian piano compositions by a Ukrainian-Jewish-Australian multidisciplinary artist and painter, original music by Sudanese-Australian local hip hop artist, multimedia experimentation with text, stories and anecdotes by women and children affected by the 1896 half-caste-act in Australia, and more.
“When Women Speak of War will expose audiences to sounds and stories that they may not have been exposed to before. Or if they have, perhaps they will hear it in a new context, and it will move them in different ways,” Albeck-Ripka said.
Understanding that When Women Speak of War required delicacy and respect, Albeck-Ripka and Tumarkin recognised that they needed to stay true to the intention of commemorating the Shoah, while also questioning how, as a society, we can all ensure genocides do not happen. All while also looking at past and present genocides through the eyes of ‘Never Again’, with Albeck-Ripka quoting a recent tweet by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky in relation to Babi Yar:
“What is the point of saying ‘Never Again’ for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site as Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating…”
To the world: what is the point of saying «never again» for 80 years, if the world stays silent when a bomb drops on the same site of Babyn Yar? At least 5 killed. History repeating…
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) March 1, 2022
“The phrase (or familiar trope) ‘Never Again’ that is rolled out each year at Yom Hashoah events, has, over time, been questioned as to whether it still holds truth. Unfortunately, we all know the answer to the question,” Albeck-Ripka said.
“It is sickening to think about what is currently happening in Ukraine and this performance, although we never knew it would take place during a war, no less in the country that our co-curator and some of our artists are from, really does serve to wake us up, to stop repeating this phrase and somehow move us into action.”
When Women Speak of War: Artists Reckon with Wars Declared and Hidden is on Thursday April 28 at The National Theatre, St Kilda, 8pm. Tickets available for in person event or to watch live stream until Sunday 1 May. $5 from every ticket goes to Ukraine Crisis Appeal. Purchase tickets.
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