August 9, 2012
Mira Żelechower-Aleksiun was born in 1941 in the town of Millerowo, near Rostow, Ukraine. In 1939 her parents escaped from Poland to the Ukraine. She never knew her father as he was killed by the Nazis when she was only two months old. After the war Mira’s mother returned with her to Poland and settled in Wroclaw. In 1966 Mira graduated from the National Academy of Art in Wroclaw, Poland, receiving a degree in Fine Arts.
On a visit to the Holy Land Mira felt she had entered into the Book. The Psalms all but materialized for her. She was fortunate to visit Sinai a place which is believed to be where Moses received the whole Torah. It was there that she “experienced the closeness of the Centre, the Presence”. This encounter became the source of renewed energy for her and as a result Mira reclaimed her Jewish identity. During the time of Martial Law in Poland, she was actively involved in the independent cultural movement.
Mira continues her passionate activism in areas outside of painting, working foremost for the reconciliation of Christians and Jews.
The Calendar of Memory
According to Bruno Schulz
The exhibition is a cycle of thirteen paintings. In 2007 Mira collaborated with the Double Edge Theater in Ashfield, near Boston, on the “Republic of Dreams.” This performance was inspired by the writings of Bruno Schulz and, in turn, became her inspiration to work on her collection of paintings, “A Calendar of Memory According to Bruno Schultz.” They are a tribute to the artist and to the generation of Jews murdered in the Holocaust; thus also to her father, Szlomo Janklewicz. She arranged her paintings according to the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew Calendar is based on a lunar cycle and has 13 months in leap years. It begins with Rosh Hashanah (Head of the Year), which usually falls around mid-September.
Bruno Schulz (July 12, 1892 – November 19, 1942) was a Polish writer, fine artist, literary critic and art teacher born to Jewish parents, and regarded as one of the great Polish-language prose stylists of the 20th century. Schulz was born in Drohobych, in the province of Galicia then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and spent most of his life there. He was killed by a German Nazi officer. His published works include: The Cinnamon Shops (Sklepy Cynamonowe) in 1934. In English-speaking countries, it is most often referred to as The Street of Crocodiles, a title derived from one of its chapters. The Cinnamon Shops was followed three years later by Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (Sanatorium Pod Klepsydrą). The original publications were illustrated by Schulz; in later editions of his works, however, these illustrations were often left out or poorly reproduced. In 1936 he helped his fiancée, Józefina Szelińska, translate Franz Kafka’s The Trial into Polish. In 1938, he was awarded the Polish Academy of Literature’s prestigious Golden Laurel award.
The first and second day of the month of Tishri is Rosh Hashanah – the New Year, followed by Yom Kippur the Day of Atonement ten days later. The zodiac sign for this month is Libra. According to Jewish tradition during this month a person is being judged, hence the symbol of a scale on which our deeds are weighed. The scenes at the foot of the mountain, the passing women, are an excerpt from a 1920 drawing of Bruno Schultz called “Undula in the night”. This text can be found in the second story from the Cinnamon Stores.
2. Cheshwan – Marcheshwan
The first part of the name mar means “bitter”. The “bitterness” of the month derives from the fact that there are no holidays during Marcheshvan. The zodiac sign for this month is Scorpio. Because the reading is from the Book of Genesis, Bereshit, one can see on the steps in the painting images related to the themes of that portion of the Torah; an allusion to the flood-Noah, the exit of Abraham from Ur-Lech Lecha, next- Vajera, Abraham hosting the three angels … The man in the window with the dog is a reference to Bruno Schultz. The story of the Vision relates to the autumn months in the Bruno Schultz story about Cheshvan which falls during October and November. The words from this story are written into the painting.
Kislev is the third month of the New Year in the lunar calendar. Typically it falls in November or early December. The zodiac sign is Sagittarius. I chose a woman as the archer. She is the opposite of the character of the woman depicted by Schultz in his drawing Procession. God tells Jacob I am with you and I will watch over you wherever you go (Gen. 28,15). In the context of the Holocaust this offer is paradoxical, however it is also the basis for hope. The text that is written into the painting is a quote from The Birds in which Schultz talks about the Autumn.
Usually Tevet begins in the second half of December. The zodiac sign is Capricorn. At the top of the staircase one can see the eight lights of Chanukah. On the last day of Chanukah one recites the prayer for the dead. In the painting there is a fragment which depicts children in the train, travelling to the death camp. Next to that portion of the painting I have placed a carousel. This could be the carousel that stood just beyond the walls of the Warsaw ghetto. One can relate the verses from the Cinnamon Stores to this month.