Artist molds memories of Holocaust

Daisy Brand’s art recalls an ugly event with beautiful, subtle skill

by Don M. Burrows

One beautiful scene has stuck with Daisy Brand since she saw it as a teenager some 62 years ago. It colors her artwork even today.

An orange hue lit the sky the day she was initiated into a Nazi concentration camp. Only later did she find out the color was caused by the refraction of light through smoke rising from the burning bodies of the executed.

This unusual inspiration can sum up Brand’s art. Her ceramic wall sculptures hearken back to her memories as a teenage Holocaust survivor. Whether through a simple number, set of stairs or window looking out on a seemingly everyday landscape, Brand avoids the obviously disturbing images of the Holocaust and instead focuses on symbolism that surrounded her at the time.

What results is visually pleasing ” not often what one might expect in art commemorating the Holocaust.

“Some people criticize my art because they say it is too beautiful,” Brand said. “But something beautiful can come from something terrible.”

Born in 1929, Brand was a teenager in Czechoslovakia when the Nazis began deporting people to Auschwitz. She arrived in 1944 for what would be a nine-month stay in captivity.

When she first arrived, Brand was one of a group of people shuttled into a gas chamber. From the night she spent there, she remembers the screaming ” people begging for water to drink, for life. The next day, a train arrived to bring the group to a labor camp, and an officer told them they should pray thanks that it had come in time to spare them.

After her camp was liberated by American soldiers, and after marrying her husband, Brand moved to Israel at the age of 19. Her husband’s fellowship at Harvard led her to Boston in the 1960s, where she still resides today. She returned to school when she was 32, majored in ceramics, an art form she picked up in Israel, taking lessons from a woman in a neighboring town.

Like many Holocaust survivors, publicly confronting memories of her past took time.

Those memories always were a part of her art, Brand said, but never more than a private way of dealing with what she had experienced. Only later did she begin to show her art that dealt with her historical experiences.

In 1995 she was granted a spot in Florence, Italy, among a select number of international artists. Later her work was shown in London. There an interview with a Scottish journalist made her understand how important it was for her to keep the memory of her experiences alive.

“A reporter asked me what preceded all of this,” she said. The journalist did not understand why she had been imprisoned as she told him about her experiences in Auschwitz. “I knew then that I had an obligation.”

Brand’s artwork is ceramic, with some metal and other materials added. One reason she enjoys working in that medium is its earthy origins and its resemblance to human flesh, she said. The process also takes the events of the Holocaust and reverses them: From fire comes a work of creation as opposed to an act of destruction.

Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said Brand’s work avoids the cliche imagery of many artists who commemorate the Holocaust.

Artists like Brand, who creatively document their memory, often find more subtle ways to look at the Holocaust, he said. Their works compete with the harsh photography and documentary evidence so often connected with the history of the event.

For Brand, her art is a way of ensuring that future generations don’t swallow the arguments of the alarming number of people who deny the Holocaust ever occurred.

“I realize I’m part of a dwindling generation,” she said. “And I want people to remember.”