Silent Village

Dead Village - Paolo Ventura 

Today (27 January) is Holocaust Memorial Day, so here’s a post about an exhibition to remind us why we remember.

In a reprisal for the assassination of Obergruppenfuhrer Reinherd “The Hangman” Heydrich, Hitler ordered the effective obliteration of the Czech village of Lidice on 09 June 1942. All the men were executed, the women and some of the children sent off to concentration camps, while other children, capable of being Germanized, were sent off to live with SS officers’ families in Germany.

Instead of erasing the village from the face of the earth, as was intended, it became an icon for those resisting the Nazis.

Back in Britain the Ministry of Information commissioned Humphrey Jennings to make a film about this atrocity, but located it closer to home at a time when the Allied forces were struggling to capture the hearts and minds of a beleaguered Britain. Jennings responded, in 1943, with The Silent Village. Setting it not in Czechoslovkia but in the village of  Cwmgeidd, in the Swansea Valley.

Nearly 70 years later Ffotogallery, at their Turner House Gallery in Penarth, re-present Jennings’ film, with responses from artists Peter Finnemore, Paolo Ventura and author Rachel Trezise. <

The atrocities of  WW2 are so appalling that they numb the brain to the point of almost disbelief (this is not to be confused with Holocaust denial).  Bringing home the millions of individual tragedies is a tall order for any artist or organisation but this exhibition, curated by Russell Roberts of University of Wales Newport, aided by the touching simplicity of Jennings’ film (all characters are played by the residents of  Cwmgeidd) and the light touch of Finnemore, Ventura and Trezise, picks out the human elements, making a visit to the gallery a truly moving experience (I went twice and will go back again).

While Ventura offers ambiguous photographs that prick the curiosity – who are these people? What do they represent? Finnemore mines the riches of his West Wales  family home not far, as the crow flies, from Cwmgeidd, focussing on the personal and familiar objects that make a house a home, speak of the absent occupants. Trezise’s trademark detached, and occasionally acerbic, observations unravel a story from the perspective of a young woman, whose connections to the Lidice massacre slowly unfold, in what is some of her tautest writing to date. You can listen to her read from Belia as you look at Finnemore’s images in the upper gallery, with the echoes of the film running in the gallery below.

Finnemore’s pictures have been bound into a small book, as has Trezise’s text. Both will be incorporated into the forthcoming (10 February) publication that has been such a labour of love for for curator Russell Roberts.  

Attention! click here for details of publication launch 10 February

More of Peter Finnemore’s work can be seen at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea until 07 February

As a sad footnote to the exhibition, Dave Berry, the film buff’s film buff and advisor on this project, died on 22 January. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

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