Art from Jewish Chernobyl


In the centuries before the catastrophic 1986 nuclear disaster, the Ukrainian city of Chernobyl was the site of a vibrant Jewish community.

German Jewish artist Marion Kahnemann recently created a mixed-media series depicting the Chernobyl region and its Jewish past. “Hinter dem rücken der Zeit” (“Behind the Back of Time” – exhibit PDF here) is her interpretation of the region’s history, in both its richness and its darkness, and her attempt to make sense of the past.

One piece, “Menetekel” (“Portent”) portrays a green-tinged field layered with Hebrew scripture and Ukrainian phrases, which hauntingly evokes a graveyard. Another, “Immer lebe die Sonne” (“The Sun Will Always Shine”) shows people standing in a row behind an overlay of wire fence. In “Königskinder” (“Royal Children”), one of the starkest pieces, a pair of ghostly, robotic children play-fight, while encased in what looks like a Torah Ark.

Kahnemann isn’t the only contemporary Jewish artist inspired by Chernobyl. In his 1996 film Saint Clara, the Israeli director Ari Folman (Waltz With Bashir) imagined a group of Chernobyl-born Israeli children who were granted telepathic powers by the explosion. Kahnemann, like Folman, has made a powerful, heartfelt contribution to our ongoing attempts to make sense of that tragic day.

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