My name is Paula, and I started my Digital Internship at the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre last week. I am an artist working across writing, video, performance and photography. Through Imperial War Museums' Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme, I will be bringing lesser-known stories of the Holocaust to light, reaching new audiences, and finding ways to engage with local communities.
At age 16 I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) to attend the United World College in Mostar.
I spent two years living and learning alongside students from 42 different countries and various socio-economic backgrounds. It was the first school in BiH to bring together students from all three ethnicities in one classroom and ‘contributing to the reconstruction of a post-conflict society‘ was an explicit aim in its foundation. My two years in Mostar instilled in me an understanding of myself as a Global Citizen and a belief in the democratising power of education.
Storytelling has been the basis of my practice from the start of my art education. I am drawn to art as a tool, which allows me to tell a story, as much as it allows me to examine and question the ways stories are constructed. I aim to make art that allows both maker and audience or collaborator to explore, to empathise, and to learn. I see art as a tool which can aid democratisation and allows individuals to feel empowered to raise their voice.
Our world is full of words and images, all demanding ever more of our attention. Consumption of information is for me never a one-way relationship, even if it sometimes does not feel like we are actively choosing what content we are confronted with. But our online engagement with images, news stories and social media posts are one way in which we are entangled with the rest of the world. And this engagement shapes the way we see ourselves and our individual roles within it.
I am interested in how art can be a tool to aid digital literacy, an incredibly important tool in fighting the spread of Holocaust denial and distortion. Within the context of Holocaust education, I think the potential of digital story-telling through social media platforms or interactive resources is based on the way that it entangles us, and how it can help us draw the connections between the global and local, personal and collective histories.
It has taken me a long time to realise that most of my art comes from a desire to understand something which feels incomprehensible. When I first started researching and producing work on the topic of migration, it was out of a state of confusion. It was an attempt to understand what we have come to know as the European Refugee Crisis starting in 2015, and an attempt to understand how we talk about, think about, and represent migration more generally.
This research eventually took me to Greece, where I followed a community of international volunteers on their nightly shifts on the coast of Lesvos, spotting for boats. The friendships and connections I made there included people that had left behind family and homes, fleeing persecution, conflict or severe poverty. Like so many of our Holocaust survivors, they are arriving on foreign lands, isolated by language barriers, and often met with unwelcoming attitudes.
At the bottom of all this confusion is an attempt to understand my role in this globalized, mediatized world: sometimes a privileged bystander, a horrified witness, a curious documenteur, and critical actor.
I will draw on my past research, as well as lived experience this year, as I explore the unique archive of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association. A rich resource due to both its scope but also because of its form: an archive collected by, cared for, and housed within a community.
We are all somehow entangled and we all have a lot to learn from studying the Holocaust.
I hope you will join me in exploring this year.