(post)JEWISH… Shtetl Opatów Through the Eyes of Mayer Kirshenblatt
May 17, 2024 - Dec 16, 2024
What was growing up in an old-time Jewish town (shtetl) like? The answer lies in Mayer Kirshenblatt’s paintings depicting the town of Opatów of his youth. The world from the paintings vanished in the wake of the Nazi Holocaust. In the exhibition, we will confront a daily-life in the shtetl with what has changed in Opatów since Mayer’s times. We will show how Opatów copes with the difficult memory of a "post-Jewish" town. We will present an exhibition devoted to Polish and Jewish memory.

Mayer Kirshenblatt’s paintings depict almost exclusively Opatów – its daily life, impoverishment, but also its characteristic architecture. The houses inhabited by Jews were mostly cramped and wooden.

In today’s Opatów there are few wooden houses left, most of them dilapidated and soon-to-be demolished. We will use timber retrieved from the demolished wooden houses to build the exhibition set design. Thus, we will transfer a part of Opatów to Warsaw, placing Mayer Kirshenblatt’s narrative in the wooden frames that remember the time of his youth.

Cooperation with local residents

We develop the exhibition content in cooperation with local activists. Joint research work in Opatów has provided the foundation for a narrative which broadens the context of Kirshenblatt’s paintings.

Projects and artistic works

We develop projects revolving around Opatów’s old Jewish community. Their outcome will be presented in the exhibition. Thanks to the geodetic scans technique, we recall the memory of how a Jewish mikveh—today the building of a fudge factory—looked like. We photograph the site of the demolished synagogue, we trace the objects discovered during geodetic works at the old Jewish cemetery, we visit old buildings of schools attended by Mayer. We walk along the river whose bed is still lined with the matzevot plundered from the former Jewish cemetery.

In the exhibition, we also present works by contemporary artists (Varda Meidar and Justyna Sokołowska) which refer to the history of Jews from Opatów.

Material heritage

We present artefacts that are the last vestiges of the material heritage of the Opatów Jewry in specially designed display cases: Judaica and everyday objects which are portrayed in Mayer’s paintings and which testify to the life of the town’s one-time Jewish community.

Everyday life of a Jewish boy

In the exhibition space, visitors will see several dozen original paintings by Kirshenblatt linked to the anecdotes told by the artist himself. Together, they will spin a unique tale of an everyday life of an energetic Jewish boy in a small town. The town where today we come across the last vestiges of its Jewish past. A post-Jewish town.

Curators: Dr Natalia Romik, Dr Justyna Koszarska-Szulc in cooperation with Prof. Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett. Managing curator: Katarzyna Tomczak-Wysocka. Exhibition design: "SENNA" Kolektyw (Natalia Romik, Piotr Jakoweńko, Sebastian Kucharuk). Art installation: Varda Meidar, Justyna Sokołowska. Co-organizer: Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland. The exhibition is produced with the support of Tad Taube and Taube Philanthropies, The CBRAT Foundation in loving memory of Joseph and Miriam Ratner.
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