I have been photographing Greek Jews who survived the Holocaust since 2012. That is when the strength and determination to immortalise their faces in photographs matured inside me. I wanted to preserve their form.
I have travelled all over Greece and to many other countries to meet them in person, speak with them and their families, photograph them and record their testimonies. I visited them in familiar surroundings: their homes, synagogues, care homes, hotels and workplaces. Though they shared the same traumatic experiences, each personal story was a source of great emotion, vast knowledge and sacred heritage.
For me, this journey has been a unique process, one of introspection and catharsis. I had the opportunity to delve deeper into this period in history, to endeavour, perhaps in vain, to understand it and attempt to transform it into a visual language. Above all, however, I was fortunate to have met these incredible people, to have made contact with these last surviving witnesses of a bygone era that still feels so close. Their inner strength and attitude towards life has been an invaluable life lesson.
I am forever grateful to them.
The 67 thought-provoking images of Nazi death camp survivors that Alcalay has collected and presented to date through her nuanced perspective, combined with the stories told by these individuals, constitute invaluable material for both historiography and historical memory. Her work also comprises a unique monument-archive of images and narratives, a “monument without monumentality” or a type of “participatory monument to life”, where the artist, the survivors and their loved ones are jointly engaged in processing trauma through performance.
Alcalay’s visual research project essentially becomes a mechanism delivering symbolic and historical justice; an artistic and ritualistic act of remembrance and historical empathy offering us the opportunity to access an individual, social and, ultimately, public space for coping with trauma, where we can be reconciled with extreme and extraordinary memories; a place of historical awareness that is indispensable and essential to each and every one of us.
Artemis Alcalay was born in Athens, Greece, in 1957. She studied painting at the Athens School of Fine Arts under Dimitris Mytaras and Yiannis Moralis, and set design under Vassilis Vassiliadis (1976-1981). Alcalay subsequently completed her post-graduate studies at the New York University (Master’s degree in Studio Art, 1984-1985). Painting, sculpture, textile art (weaving, embroidery, carpet design), photography and digital art, as well as set and costume design for contemporary dance, are all media upon which she draws in her work, often in combination. She regularly holds solo exhibitions in Greece and abroad, and collaborates as a set and costume designer with contemporary dance groups. She also designs hand-made carpets. Her work touches on issues of identity, personal and historical memory, and trauma. Since 2012, she has been meeting and photographing Greek Jews who survived the Holocaust. In 2016, she became an honorary member of the International Raoul Wallenberg Foundation.
This website is still in development. It will be regularly updated with new information as the material collected during meetings with survivors over the previous years is being processed. Sections relating to exhibitions, presentations and articles about the project will also be enriched.