Elke-Vera Kotowski studied political science, literature, cultural studies, and philosophy in Berlin and Duisburg. From 1990 to 1994 she was an editor at Zeitgeist, Dusseldorf. From 1994 to 2000 she worked at the Institute for German-Jewish History at the Historical Institute of the University of Potsdam. In 2000, she gained her Doctorate in Philosophy, and since then she has been employed at the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam. Kotowski is the author and editor of numerous publications.
This interview was conducted for the opening of ‘Zakhor!’ at the SA Jewish Museum, on May 4th 2016. Kotowski is on of the three curators that made this touring exhibition possible.
ArtThrob: ‘Zakhor!’ has been shown twice so far in its global tour, in Vilnius and Berlin respectively. Tell us about the reception of the exhibition. How have individuals and the press reacted to the artwork, and to remembering ‘the Jerusalem of the North’?
Elke-Vera Kotowski: In Vilnius and in Berlin the interest of the audience was amazing. At both locations there were so many people that the exhibition was overcrowded. For the inhabitants of Vilnius it was very interesting how the artists’ view of Vilnius was. Most of the people know the former ghetto, because it is in the old center of Vilnius and they cross it more or less every day. For the visitors in Berlin, the Jewish context was the first view which most of them had, because of the country’s history, and the context in which the exhibition was created.
AT: I know that Tel Aviv and Buenos Aires are also planned for the global tour…
E-V K: Yes, the idea is to bring the exhibition to those cities where there is still a large Litvak (Lithuanian Jewish) community.
AT: What is the Moses Mendelssohn Center for European-Jewish Studies role in the exhibition?
E-V K: The MMC is a research center for European Jewish studies. For us it is very important to share our research with society, not only to undertake that research. Our goal is to bring history to the people, and in a form that they understand. In my experience during the last ten years, I have found that exhibitions are ideal for this. Often I create exhibitions with my students at the University of Potsdam, but this is the first time we have dealt with this particular theme. Two years ago my colleague Julius H. Schoeps (the director of the MMC) and I had the idea to invite artists from Vilnius to engage with the religious and cultural life in the formerly Jewish Vilnius, and to transform their knowledge, memories and imaginations into art.
AT: There are several curators for this exhibition; yourself, Linas Liandzbergis (representing the Lithuanian Artists’ Union), and Dr Gabrielė Žaidytė (Cultural Attaché at the Lithuanian Embassy). Can you talk about the roles of each curator?
E-V K: Julius H. Schoeps and I had the idea, my colleague and friend Gabrielė Žaidytė, the cultural attaché of the Lithuanian Embassy in Berlin, was the connecting point between us and the artists, and Linas – one of the artists participating at the opening here in Cape Town – invited his colleagues to the original show we organised in 2014, at the Old City Hall in Vilnius. At the show, more than 80 works came together and from this we selected 33 to show in this exhibition. The role of Linas was, and is, to be in communication with the artists, and Gabrielė is the connection between the official cultural and political Lithuanian side. I organise the cooperation between the Museums and other venues, and try to find sponsors who support projects like this. It’s my goal to bring exhibitions with Jewish history to a large audience, this is also part of my job as a researcher and a historian of European Jewish studies.
AT: Which artworks resonate with you the most, or which do you personally think are the most successful?
E-V K: During the last month I have learnt to love all the works. But I have three or four which I would like to hang in my house. At the end of the exhibition’s tour the artists will sell the works, so maybe (and if my husband agrees) I will buy the one or the other of them.
– ‘Zakhor!’ is on at the SA Jewish Museum, Cape Town, from 04.05.2016 – 12.06.2016