Limerick artist and poet Jo Slade
THE role of the artist in bearing witness to the horrors and inhumanities of the world is at the heart of an exhibition by poet and artist Jo Slade which opens in Limerick city this Thursday.
Entitled The White Cottage, the name given to Bunker 2, the second gas chamber to be put into operation at Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1942, it is an installation, incorporating poetry, paintings, photographs, sculptures, objects and video.
“I have been working on this for a number of years.” says Jo. "It has been an amazing journey."
That journey began with an old newspaper clipping which she came upon in unusual circumstances and it sparked an interest in Edith Stein, a Polish born scholar and philosopher, a Jewish woman who in her 40s became a Catholic Carmelite nun.
Edith Stein was arrested by the Nazis and murdered in a gas chamber in Auschwitz Birkenau in August 1942 but who was murdered in the White Cottage gas chamber in Auschwitz Birkenau in August, 1942.
Edith was canonized in 1998.
“I became interested in her, started to read up about her and to read her work,” Jo explains.
A hand-made book of paintings and poems followed but then Jo decided to develop it further into the encompassing work that will go on display.
In 2007, Jo travelled to Auschwitz Birkenau and saw the remains of The White Cottage or The Little White House, originally a farm cottage but brought into use as a gas chamber in June 1942.
It is, Jo says, a deeply personal investigation into Stein’s life but she tried to widen it out, from the Holocaust to other horrors that humanity visits on other human beings, to what we do one another and why.
As part of that journey of investigation, questions emerged which Jo believes are still pertinent today - the need to challenge established ways of thinking and highlight the condition of the outsider, the displaced and the forgotten, to look at the thin line between the familiar and the foreign and to explore the influence of personal histories on the collective memory.
“I thought about the role of the artist as a witness in the world. It is not about preaching. It is my own personal experience of trying to express compassion and horror,” Jo explains.
In the face of some horrors, she adds: “I feel helpless. I have no control.”
Sometimes, all that can be done, is “to call it up and leave it out there.”
“It is about bearing witness. What else can we do? The poem says ‘Keep your eyes open. Keep them wide open’ .If we can do nothing, at least be clear about what we see, what we see is real,” she says.
Because The White Cottage is an installation, none of the pieces of work that make it up will be for sale. But a book of ten of Jo’s poems along with some of her images has been designed by her graphic designer son John and copies of this book can be bought at the exhibition.
Making it very much a family affair, John’s wife, Aoife McInerney, also a graphic designer, did the posters and invitations for the exhibition while Jo’s second son, David and his wife, Gemma Addy, created the photographs and videos.
The exhibition runs from Thursday, November 17 to December 1 in The Sailor’s Home, O’Curry St and can be visited each week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays between 11am and 4pm.