Kaddish for Dąbrowa Białostocka: Images by Mark Podwal
January 3, 2019 - March 3, 2019
Although for many years I had wanted to visit Dąbrowa Białostocka, the shtetl in Poland where my mother was born, I never planned on creating a series of artworks about Dąbrowa. Ultimately, an incentive to visit Dąbrowa came from its mayor’s invitation to participate in a conference on the history of the town’s Jews. The visit on May 24, 2016 resulted in a series of drawings in acrylic and colored pencil, completed over thirty days following my visit. There are eighteen images, a significant number, meaning chai, or “life” in Hebrew.
In essence, this series is a visual diary of my journey to Dąbrowa. The drawings are based on what I saw in the town and what I heard from elderly residents as they reminisced about their former Jewish neighbors while filmed by Tomasz Wisniewski for his documentary The Absent Family: Reading the Ashes – Following in the Footsteps of the Jews of Dąbrowa. Although Dąbrowa was once 75 percent Jewish, no Jews currently live there.
In 1941, the Germans burned Dąbrowa Białostocka to the ground. Yet the images presented in Kaddish for Dąbrowa Białostocka do not focus on the Holocaust. Like a kaddish – a mourning prayer – they honor something precious that is gone by portraying a vanished world of Jewish shtetl life in pre-World War II Poland. Incorporating themes characteristic of Poland, this series is the unique artistic imaginings of my Polish roots.