The genesis of “Our Struggle: Responding to Mein Kampf,” a powerful exhibition at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum dealing with the memory of the Holocaust, is as interesting as the show.
When French artist Linda Ellia’s daughter brought home a copy of “Mein Kampf” that she found at a friend’s house, Ellia, horrified to have it in her home, was in conflict about what to do with it. Destroying it would be like running away from the memory of the Holocaust.
She began to tear away pages and draw her response on them.
The action wasn’t just cathartic, it also gave her a sense of power over the work. No longer was she a victim.
She continued making drawings, or in some cases, overlaid words or paintings onto the original text, on about 30 pages.
She sent pages to friends and other people she thought would be interested, inviting them to do the same. She handed out pages to strangers on the street and in cafes.
In about three years, more than 450 pages came back to her. She published them in an art book, “Notre Combat,” whose contents are revealed in this museum exhibit, on view through June 15.
Styles, forms and approaches are exceptionally varied. Cartoon-like drawings, paintings and collages offer everything from riotous humor to frightening seriousness to pure poetry.
Regardless of differences in the artists’ skill levels, the imagination and intensity of feeling reflected in the pictures is remarkable.
In one, a hand pushes down a section of a page into a food-processorlike object with a human face. Bits and pieces, in the form of miniature skulls and limbs, spew out of the mouth.
Another particular moving picture has Yiddish text bolded and superimposed onto one of the pages.
In addition to displaying pictures, a number of rooms are devoted to events related to the exhibit. One contains books about other genocides in Armenia, Bosnia, Sudan, Rwanda and Darfur.
The books enlarge the exhibition’s subject and their effect is to remind us that the issue of genocide goes beyond that of the Holocaust.
Our Struggle — Responding to ‘Mein Kampf’
Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., San Francisco
When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except closed Wednesdays, and 1 to 8 p.m. Thursdays, closes June 15
Contact: (415) 655-7800, www.thecjm.org