Storytelling, textiles and food

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There is beauty to be found in embracing the multiplicity of stories that constitute my identity. The essence of home is portable and fluid — always growing and adapting, fusing and mingling with different times, places and people, expressing itself in new forms and stories.

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© 2022 Lara Bongard, all rights reserved

The Girl Who Crossed the River with a Tablecloth

“Can anyone ever truly return to the land of one’s memory?
Or is remembering the only form that such return can be actualized?”
(Um, 2012: 845)

The word ‘history’ is absent in the Hebrew language, instead the word ‘Zikaron’ זִכָּרוֹן is used, which means 'memory'. As rabbi Mendel Kalmenson beautifully articulates: “Without me there is no memory. Memory is a part of me, and history, apart from me.”

In the winter of 2019, I received the 100-year old embroidered Sabbath Tablecloth, the only surviving memorabilia from the erased world of my ancestors, which marked the beginning of my in-depth research into the scattered history of my family. The project started out of a longing to find a deeper understanding of my past and explore a heritage that was covered in dust. I merged myself through the layers of time, crossing one world to another, simultaneously. Trying to find colour in what seemed like complete absence — through slowly uncovering, unfolding, dusting, excavating, re-collecting and assembling the fragments of a lost home.

The project consists of three parts — two books, vol. I + II and an audio-piece performance. Showing a multi-layered research into memory, personal history and the archive, genealogy and Yiddish culture. This project is a homage to my ancestors and a testimony against oblivion. The project has taken me to Israel to retrace scattered family members and to Ukraine to visit the lost villages of my ancestors.

“Your master's research was a quest for your own heritage in order to better understand the feeling of being out of place. To interpret the restlessness of not knowing where you belong and to find your own place in the world by tracing your family history. Your search led you to Ukraine - which literally means 'borderland' in Russian - Israel and many places in-between both the known and the unknown violently erased part of the history of Eastern European Jews.

You collected testimonies, photographs, letters and archival material, reconstructed family trees and researched symbolism and motifs that became flexible and mobile in your embroidered rucksack, maps and landscapes. You searched for relatives and learned to cook the dishes with which they lovingly welcomed you. And then you received that wonderful gift: an embroidered 100-year-old tablecloth, with which one of your ancestors crossed a river to escape the cruelty of yet another pogrom. The tablecloth connected you to your relatives and the silenced stories and erased stains of entire generations; gradually, dislocation became for you a portable home. Through performative acts with your haptic photographic images of eating-scenes on textile carriers and your embroidered map, you sought and found a different kind of topography and connection: flexible, unfoldable and re-imaginable landscapes and mental spaces emerged in which new narratives grew. In your thesis, you recreated the rural Shtetl life of the segregated communities in which your ancestors were forced to live. A cycle of stories based on the Jewish lunar calendar, mystical and symbolic, full of life and rich in rituals. Fictional stories in which silenced history came back to life and mingled with your own travel stories, in a very sensuous narrative style in which past, present and future seamlessly blend. A clever construction and storyline that offers the reader a transhistorical experience.

Your thesis, textile work and performance are one inseparable whole, they are a dynamic space of memory in which the traumatic unspoken and the brutally erased are present and gently reformulated. This is how you crossed your river Lara, with a rich and multidimensional work, which can be unfolded and reformulated in many other ways in the future.”

- Anja Veirman
Researcher in the Arts
LUCA School of Arts, Belgium

Graduation Project MFA

Books vol. i+ii >>
Installation & Performance >>
Project archive >>