Alexandra Spalter


Bachelor of Visual Arts Painting Political Art Political Storytelling Identity Power Language

A series that brings to question previous historical representation of the Jewish people.

How can a painting approach complex issues connected with intergenerational trauma and collective grief? In my works I seek to paint portraits of individuals within a moment of bliss and contentment. The title of the exhibition is called Schmooze referring to casual conversation that occurs between individuals, echoing the kind of relationship I am wanting to establish between the viewer and my paintings.

I am of Jewish decent and reflection on the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish community has informed how I have positioned my work. Instead of resorting to images of re-traumatization I am finding a way through my art to reflect on the potential places where collective healing can occur. Historically there have been many dehumanizing images of Jewish people circulating our collective consciousness. Here I offer portraits of my wider Jewish community, celebrating our features and providing counter-narratives to the negative propaganda. Their facial expressions are relaxed and content, an expression of our collective resilience.

Visually I have sought to reference the general style of historical anti-Semitic propaganda, however I intend to reverse the degrading effects. I am seeking to encapsulate the essence of a Jewish individual’s character within a moment of joy and comfort, despite the generational trauma of genocide and antisemitism carried on a daily basis.

‘Schmooze’ is a series of Portraits representative of heritage, culture and survival of a people. These smiling, gleeful faces belong to Jewish individuals that identify within my wider community, and have played a role in my life. They stand in front of you presenting themselves within a candid moment laughing, smiling, pulling a face, However they have a profound purpose. To ‘Schmooze’ (Yiddish) is to chat or converse about nothing in particular. These portraits ‘schmooze’ in front of us, as anyone would.

Artistically I’ve always been interested in the production of anti Semitic propaganda taking a huge role in The Holocaust, and it’s influence on the general population to ultimately demonize the Jewish race. These images would typically involve big noses, greed with money, comparison to animals and an abundance of harmful stereotypes that fed into an already hateful system. A ministry of public ‘enlightenment’ and propaganda was created by Adolf Hitler to systematically shape public opinion and behaviour in Germany. I have established a collection of faces that I believe encompass unique features that are to be celebrated as opposed to being despised. Features that at one point would be a reason for loss of life, are to be embraced and accepted.

‘Schmooze’ is a collection of personal portraits involving a common approach and purpose of faces being perceived in a certain light. I have recreated a similar ‘poster-like’ image for each person but rather portraying these individuals to a truer form, and concentrated on shaping their stand-out features through an appreciative representation, and reversing the once visually negative effect that posters formerly had.

I refer to this series as reaction art. As a child, I observed the type of dehumanizing propaganda which once abundantly existed in the public eye, and I understood that there was an agenda. ‘Schmooze’ is a result of reactivity from my modern-day Jewish standpoint. This is a morsel of the generation that outlived a heinous time, in which the general public scarcely viewed Jews as human beings. These works feel necessary to me, with my urge to provide an understanding of the historical and generational trauma that Jewish people continue to carry. My ‘agenda’ is nothing in particular, other than to encourage the appropriate interpretations of these depictions.

These works bear heavy implications and the foundations of them are based on trauma, however I’ve applied an ethereal and somewhat realist quality to this work in order to uplift, in contradiction with what once was degrading. I took advantage of the light in the images, and the way it falls onto the features that appear joyous in a practice of undoing what has been done, and reversing damage. I’ve captured moments of contentment and bliss where the individual appears carefree and rid of any burden or trauma, however providing an understanding that this isn’t the case, and rather that Jewish persons carry the weight of this narrative on a daily basis. These portraits are the raw reaction through the eyes of a Jewish artist 75 years later.