‘Art can heal’

Artist Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, who’s participating at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018, stopped by in the city for a talk on how art is the way towards love and peace

December 21, 2018 03:58 pm | Updated 03:59 pm IST

 Bracha L Ettinger

Bracha L Ettinger

Tel Aviv-born and Paris-based visual artist, psycho analyst, critical theorist and influential feminist, Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, is on her first India visit with her solo show ‘Eurydice-Medusa-Pieta’ at the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2018. Equanimity between entities is central to her work and she says her exhibit befittingly explores this year’s theme of possibilities for a non-alienated life. The 70-year-old multi-faceted artist is known for inducing major transformations in contemporary European painting, art theory and critical studies through her pioneering work in the 1980s-90s. She also holds the Chair of Psychoanalysis and Art at the European Graduate School, Switzerland.

On the invitation of SCILET, The American College and Srishti, she made a hurricane trip to Madurai for a special lecture on the importance of mainstreaming of the marginalised, essentially women. During a brief chat, she spoke about her work and how art can address violence in today’s world.

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about your work

My work is multi-layered and brings the disparate fields of art and psychology together. I use all kinds of languages of art such as paintings, ink drawings, photos, installations, notes and emotions to create a space of depth for the viewer. My paintings are abstract and symbolic. They are also holographic from where shadowy figures emerge. When I paint, I make myself vulnerable to access the emotions of the world absorbed by pain and violence. I work on my family history, World War II and holocaust images. It starts from the traces of human figures as mothers, women, and children and their wounds, abandoned in war and trauma, facing death and in meditation.

What does your work at the Kochi Biennale focus on?

Eurydice-Medusa-Pieta engages the quivering moves of the butterfly and the jellyfish, its tendrils in the ocean and the womb. I have worked with small colour lines toward light. It echoes the massacre of women in different points in time — in the Baltic Sea in 1945, in Ukraine in 1942, in the Ponary forest in 1947 and the Eilat ship wreck in 1967. I try to find the meaning of devastation and suffering. The more you look at my work, you will realise the same traces of wounds are in you. I believe the world can gain by recognising the humanity of the arts because arts alone has remedial potential. The artistic has a potential for feminising the subject because only in that realm it passes from aesthetics to ethics.

How can art help the world heal with violence?

Being hospitable is maternal to any culture and the world needs more women in its decision making process to bring change. Women are for peace and should therefore be allowed to collaborate and co-energise a shareable sphere. Wisdom lies in realising selfishness and being alone is not the purpose of our existence. There is a sense of freedom in joining with the other. If I want to grow, I should be hospitable and allow the other to grow because the true meaning of me is being human.

Art can address violence because the medium is a direct response to the trauma of suffering. Art emerges after trust dies and activates the mind’s eye. As we confront devastating spectacles of violence on a daily basis, arts helps us enter ethical bonds, the foreground for love, compassion and togetherness. People should co-engage themselves.

The way forward in any border conflict lies in the co-emergence of I and non-I as singular and intimate. It is trans-connected and should be made into a symbol of humanity, unity and continuity. Art can humanise the subject of senseless war.

You moved from psychology to art. How does it help your work?

I have painted all my life and it is my education as a psychologist that helps me refine my art. The visual appeal of my drawings are not necessarily influential but the fact that they embrace all that I experience, understand and feel as an individual is more important. I formulate my ideas and concepts and evolve through art. It helps me see and understand people. This feeling is knowledge. Every human being is connected through art even if as individuals we are retreating from one another. It is because we are defined by our identity. There are many inter connected sub-layers within us. As an artist, I have given up the notion of my one identity but negotiate with multiple identities — many elements I can’t see but work with them to transform myself.

What inspired you the most during this visit?

The Kochi Biennale is beautifully planned and curated by a woman paying attention to every detail. Coming in contact with a wide section of people has been most inspirational. Smaller towns like Madurai and Kochi really surprised me with the simplicities of daily life. I am otherwise much influenced by the life of Ma Sarada Devi.

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