appel à communication : Exploring Visual Representations from the Holocaust (Jena, 9-12 Oct 23)

“To tear these images from time”: Exploring Visual Representations from Nazi Camps, Ghettos, and the Holocaust.

The chair for Art History at Jena University seeks applications for an international conference that will take place in Jena from October 9-12, 2023. The conference will probe the potential of analytical approaches to drawings, sculptures, albums, paintings, and other visual artifacts that were created in extremis within National Socialist camps, ghettos, and in hiding as well as in the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust and World War II.

It is due to the great merit of a few persistent survivors, archivists, and historians that the scattered artifacts were collected, and the biographies and circumstances of production recorded. However, in particular images depicting Nazi crimes through mostly figurative means have been widely neglected in the shadow of the debate over the unrepresentability of the Holocaust. For a long time, the field of research remained relatively small. Scholars valued these artistic artifacts as a form of spiritual and political resistance, consulted the images as illustrations of “how it was”, interpreted them as an expression of the trauma endured, or praised their artistic quality. Lately, the methodological approaches and research questions diversify as the field is rapidly expanding.

The conference at Jena University has two objectives: First, we will consolidate and differentiate current approaches to these multifaceted objects. Second, we will explore how the Nazi crimes and the Holocaust were represented before and immediately after the liberation. Despite their predominantly realistic visual language, these images do not speak for themselves, but require analysis: regarding choice of motif, artistic means, composition, and stylistic language. Probing the potential of art history and visual studies, we pay special attention to perspectives that take the images seriously as images.
We therefore invite scholars at all levels of their careers, from PhD candidates to senior faculty, who work in fields such as Art History, Visual or Cultural Studies, Anthropology, and Visual or Cultural History as well as archivists and curators who deal with the topic at hand. Papers may address the following fields of inquiry:

1. Questions regarding the images, such as:
– How do the circumstances of production and the intended functions manifest themselves in the images?
– How do (conscious or unconscious) iconographic, thematic, symbolic, or stylistic references to pictorial traditions create meaning in depictions of the Nazi crimes?
– How did visual representations of Nazi camps and the Holocaust transform under various circumstances in the immediate postwar period?
– What role does the artist’s gender, political views, religious and cultural background play?

2. Questions regarding methodology or questions that define and differentiate the corpus, like:
– Do we need to treat artworks created by children or outsider artists differently than those by artists who received a formal art education?
– Should the site of production (concentration camp, ghetto, hiding place, or DP-camp) influence our analytical approach? How is Camp Art conceptually different from Holocaust Art?
– Does it even make sense to analyze the images created in camps with different methods than other artifacts of the Holocaust?

3. Questions regarding historical understanding and education, e.g.:
– What is the epistemological potential of these objects? Why should they be preserved or exhibited?
– How can we render this potential fruitful? How can these works be presented or used in education?
– Which curatorial, archival, or educational challenges do these objects entail?

The conference will include a joint visit to the art exhibition of the Buchenwald Memorial. Since 1990, the Memorial presents the only permanent art exhibition at the site of a former concentration camp in Germany and hold s the largest art collection of a memorial in Germany.

The conference is organized by the chair of Art History at Jena University in cooperation with the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation. It is part of the research project “Beyond the Limits of Representation. Artistic Artifacts of Concentration Camp Inmates as Visual Interpretation of the Camp Reality”, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

– The 20-minute presentations and the discussions will be held in English.
– Selected papers will be published in an edited volume.

Applicants should submit a 300-word-abstract and a short bio not exceeding 150 words to until April 10, 2023.
Please contact Ella Falldorf with any further questions.

The DFG will reimburse the costs of economy-class plane or train tickets to/from Jena, up to a maximum reimbursable amount. We will also provide hotel accommodation during the conference. Participants are required to attend the full duration of the conference.


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