Aileen Bassis

The idea for this project began several years ago when I was traveling
in Europe.  I feel that Europe is haunted by the events of the Second
World War and the destruction of Europe’s Jewish communities. When I
passed older people on the streets of the cities, I found myself
wondering what roles they played in the horrors: were they victims too?  
Perpetrators?  Bystanders? What tragedies took place behind these
windows and doors, in these squares and on these streets?

This art work began with photos I took in the Jewish quarter of Antwerp.
I took photos in the Dossins barracks building in Belgium where
thousands were held before being transported to concentration camps.
Eventually I took photos at a concentration camp, Mauthausen, in
Austria.  I photocopied these images and transferred them onto white or
tracing paper.

Altered books seemed to be such an appropriate structure for this
work.  There is the reference to “the people of the book.”  Books are
very sacred to Jewish people -- I recall dropping a prayer book and
kissing it when I picked it up. Then there was the Nazi destruction of
books, book burnings meant to destroy a culture.  Books function as a
source of narrative: you expect them to contain a story, a text, a journey
through the mind.  And finally, books are so very intimate.  The reader is
engaged with the author, there is no one else there when you read --
just you and the text.  

I inserted my images into old books, tearing, layering, painting on the
pages, piercing them and adding wire or thread. I also included images
of maps and a text in Yiddish of a pre-World War Two folktale.   The
results are sculptural objects that contain fragmented images. A space
is created to draw the viewer in, offering remnants of the past -- and a
terrible story.

The key to this work is a photo taken in Antwerp of an Orthodox Jewish
man on a bicycle. I used the outline of that image to create stencils for
monoprints. It’s an image of an individual, unknowingly moving towards
overpowering forces in history. I'm interested in the tension between the
information in the printed images and that idiosyncratic shape of the Man
in the Hat. It's like a piece of a puzzle, and the puzzle is the inexplicable
horror that people can – and continue to inflict: Darfur, the Shiites and
Sunnis…the destruction continues. Deniers of all stripes continue to find
willing believers.

The Holocaust is an interrupted -- and unfinished -- narrative.