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Mapping Out “Refugee Modernism” on the Venice Biennale

Mapping Out “Refugee Modernism” on the Venice Biennale

Mapping Out "Refugee Modernism" at the Venice Biennale

VENICE, Italy — Accessible just about and dispersed all through the Venice Biennale’s fairgrounds, the Yiddishland Pavilion highlights a up to date secular Yiddish visible tradition that could be finest outlined because the inheritance of refugee modernism(s) of the early to the mid-Twentieth century. Yiddishland was bodily current all through the biennale throughout its opening days, the place guests might encounter a Yiddish circle dance within the Giardini, led by Avia Moore, or a Taking place-like efficiency within the Giardinia by Neue Jüdische Kunst, an interdisciplinary affiliation based in Odesa by Nikolay Karabinovych and Garry Krayevets.

With the Russian Pavilion voluntarily canceled by its curator and artists earlier this yr in response to President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, present geopolitics had already reshaped the biennial fairgrounds. Yiddishland Pavilion co-curators Maria Veits and Yevgeniy Fiks, who each have roots in Russia, deployed their deterritorialized challenge to handle how Jewish, Ukrainian, and Latvian refugee modernisms of the Twentieth century join with up to date realities in Ukraine. On April 23, they organized a chat hosted by the Latvian Pavilion, which included, amongst others, Ukrainian artists Konstantin Akinsha, Nikita Kadan, and Karabinovych, whose presence mirrored the present conditions of artists who’ve been compelled to flee their properties by Russian forces.

Neue Jüdische Kunst, “Yarmulkes underneath the Turbans,” April 23, 2022. Arsenale (exterior the Latvian Pavilion), Venice Biennale. (courtesy the artists/Yiddishland Pavilion)

Ukrainian artists are actually dealing with an unsure future that’s sadly not unprecedented, as one central challenge within the Yiddishland Pavilion attests. Created by Fiks, who can also be an artist, Yonia Fain’s Map of Refugee Modernism is an audio tour of the Venice Biennale. Written by Fiks and primarily based on archival supplies housed on the League for Yiddish and the current documentary, Yonia Fain: With Pen and Paintbrush, it tells the story of the Ukrainian-born artist and poet and his migrations throughout eight international locations. Guests can hearken to the audio information by going to the Yiddishland Pavilion’s web site, the place four-to-five minute narrative snippets of Fain’s life will be heard. Primarily instructed in English with a smattering of Yiddish, the audio tour is delivered in a semi-fictionalized first-person narrative, voiced by New York-based Yiddish theater actor Shane Baker. 

Artist Nikita Kadan talking on the “Maps of Refugee Modernism(s)” occasion on the Latvian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, April 23, 2022 (picture courtesy the Yiddishland Pavilion)

If listening to the audio information on the biennale itself, guests can transfer from pavilion to pavilion: The tour begins, logically sufficient, in Ukraine, earlier than transferring to Lithuania, Poland, USSR/Russia, Japan, China, Mexico, and eventually, the US.

Fain lived in a few of these international locations for years, some just for a couple of months. Born in Ukraine in 1913, the artist and his household fled the Bolshevik revolution when he was a baby, touchdown first in Lithuania’s capital Vilnius, the place he established the foundations of his inventive observe. Fain’s understanding of himself as an artist is basically transnational and Yiddish at its core, stating at one level: “I’m a Yiddishland artist. I dream in Yiddish, I paint in Ukrainian, I attract Polish, I sculpt in Russian.” He describes certainly one of his favourite lecturers, a former German officer who remained in Vilnius after World Struggle I. The instructor spoke German intermingled with a couple of Hebrew phrases — his personal private model of Yiddish — which suited him nicely sufficient in talking with the budding artist.

Fain’s story turns into extra fraught as he got here of age throughout the outbreak of World Struggle II. After becoming a member of the Basic Jewish Labor Bund, he turned a goal as each a socialist and a Jew. Fleeing Poland on foot, Fain narrowly prevented time in a Soviet jail. He later escaped to Japan because of Chiune Sugihara, an official who saved hundreds of Jewish lives by illegally procuring them transit visas to Japan. Fain was later despatched to China, the place he spent the conflict within the Shanghai Ghetto, depressing however secure compared to his counterparts in Europe. After the conflict, Fain moved to Mexico, the place he was befriended by a few of its biggest fashionable artists — Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo — earlier than transferring completely to New York in 1953.

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Yevgeniy Fiks, Yonia Fain’s Map of Refugee Modernism (courtesy the Yiddishland Pavilion)

Every audio information entry describing Fain’s life concludes with a fictionalized anecdote imagining what would have occurred if historic circumstances have been totally different and Fain had been allowed to thrive in every of the international locations by which he has lived. Fain describes a Poland the place World Struggle II by no means came about, the place his large-scale murals have been included in an Oscar Niemeyer-designed constructing for the Basic Jewish Labor Bund in Warsaw. He imagines having his work included within the Chiune Sugihara Museum of Refugee Trendy Artwork in Kobe and representing Japan on the Venice Biennale in 1993. He envisions a rising Yiddish-speaking artwork neighborhood in Shanghai after World Struggle II and representing the Soviet Jewish autonomous zone Birobidzhan throughout the Chinese language Pavilion in Venice. Every story reveals a fantasy of what may need been if conflict and nationalism had not calcified round Fain, if the refugee modernist artist had been allowed to remain in a single place and set down roots.

Fain handed away in New York in 2013 on the age of 100, remembered as a longstanding college member at Hofstra College in Hempstead, New York — the place lots of his works are included within the college’s artwork assortment — in addition to inside Yiddish-speaking inventive and literary circles. Nonetheless, at the same time as artwork historians and museum curators have expanded their remit geographically to incorporate “international modernism” in recent times, tales like Fain’s stay obscure, partly as a result of they complicate the nationwide boundaries that also construction a lot art-history writing. For Fiks —whose work typically focuses on forgotten and underrepresented narratives of the Twentieth century, notably in relation to Russia — Fain is a pure topic, and the audio information compassionately and imaginatively narrates the story of an artist whose formative years was regularly uprooted. Yonia Fain’s Map of Refugee Modernism, just like the Yiddishland Pavilion as an entire, not solely succeeds in making seen a uncared for determine of modernism but additionally successfully questions the borders that proceed to outline the artwork world.

Yiddishland Pavilion occasions and tasks proceed over the course of the 59th Venice Biennale, together with a video efficiency by Uladzimir Hramovich analyzing the tales of revolutionary Hirsch Leckert and sculptor Abram Brazier, and Ofri Lapid’s the “Shund” on-line studying session, specializing in early Twentieth-century Yiddish theater performs in Berlin. The pavilion was curated by Maria Veits and Yevgeniy Fiks.

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