Daring to look your family’s past in the face

Last week a Chinese schoolboy approached me after my talk The other side: The Second World War through the eyes of an ordinary German family. Slightly trembling and in broken English he asked me if I had been frightened looking into my family’s past. In my talk I describe the journey I started 10 years ago, of peering deep into the darkest episode of modern history to discover what role my family, above all my German grandfather, a decorated Wehrmacht General, had played, or may have played. I knew the boy was asking this question for a personal reason, the shadows of his own family demons were almost visible, passing like clouds over his terrified face.

My grasp of Chinese history is woefully thin. I wracked my brains for atrocities or events that this boy’s family member(s) could have been involved in. Tiananmen Square in 1989 sprang to mind along with the general sense of horrors perpetrated by Chairman Mao’s regime. But actually it didn’t matter whether I knew the precise what, when, where and who of his story. What mattered was the impact it was having on his life.

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“Tell your story… until your past stops tearing you apart”

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Tell your story.
Let it nourish you, sustain you and claim you.
Tell your story.
Let it feed you, heal you and release you.
Tell your story.
Let it twist and re-mix your shadowed heart.
Tell your story,
Until your past stops tearing your present apart.

I heard the above words recently on Radio 4’s Spoken Word programme “Writing a new South Africa”. You can hear it here at 14.38 minutes: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b053bsfm
Spoken aloud, with all the power of someone who knows the potency of the words, it struck me that this is precisely what I have been doing in the past years.

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Is there a point in still talking about Second World War Germany ?

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I found it almost impossible to write over the summer or to organise my thoughts into some sort of coherent flow while the sun shone outside producing the intrepid army of courgettes that now lies liquidized in my freezer. Instead I hung out in Nazi Germany, trying to organise 9 years of research into a 40 minute talk for schools and as yet unknown audiences. It was a process of willing black and white photographs to come to life to reveal what has been lurking in the corners of Germany’s post-war national silence for 50 years. But I also found myself wondering (with regular twangs of self-doubt) what the point is of still talking about this subject? And is it still relevant and important for today’s younger generations of English and Germans to engage with Hitler and the Holocaust, or have Bin Laden & other contemporary despots taken his place as ‘Dr Evil’?

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Searching for identity, through art and dance

Akram Khan’s solo dance production “Desh” has to be one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I have ever seen. It is a visceral exploration of and search for identity; an attempt to bridge the gulf between two vastly differing cultures – Bangladesh and the UK – and a personal quest by Khan to find resolution within his own family and indeed himself. (http://www.akramkhancompany.net/)

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Akram Khan in Desh, Sadler’s Wells, 2013

I had a triple hit of identity issues on Friday. It all started with my being rudely awoken by unexpectedly urgent and slightly panicked questions into who I am and what on earth my life is about.

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1945 to 2013 in one painting

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Untitled (with lipstick) 2011

by Angela Findlay

My most recent solo show Fragments of time at McAllister Fine Art in Godalming is entering its final week. It shows work combining photographic collage and oil and is a development of ideas and techniques that led to a collaboration with John Helseltine and a joint  exhibition Filling the cracks in 2011

Reflecting on the paintings I find myself wondering where to next? This body of work has been the result of several years of an on-going interest in capturing glimpses of the everyday, usually overlooked and yet often very beautiful testimonies to peoples’ lives within the privacy of their homes. Initially I worked from a dawning sense of the fragility of what we call “home”, a paradox in the face of the security and consistency we seek there.

In 1945 as an eleven year old German girl, my mother fled her home with her younger sister, the approaching Russian army a mere 40 miles away. The few stories of her childhood experiences float silently in my imagination, their edges blurring with those of my own memories. The implications of her sparse accounts didn’t register fully until I was older. But the images she sketched of a Berlin in flames, the train station heaving with jostling people, and the agonising choice of which doll to take – the beloved but threadbare one or the brand new one from her father on leave from the front? – began to provide a source of inspiration for my work.

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