Accessing Deep Memory: The Life and Art of Mira Hermoni-Levine

Accessing Deep Memory: The Life and Art of Mira Hermoni-Levine

Women’s Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal
pages 559-584
Volume 32, Issue 5, 2003
Published online: 12 Dec 2006
By Jacqueline Mclean

For the children of survivors, the Holocaust is “a site of memory with a future” (Sicher 21). The children of survivors may carry the burden of immortalizing memory, but they do not possess a personal memory of the Holocaust nor did they know the family and the way of life that the Holocaust destroyed. Instead, they struggle to imagine and to heal the lost memory, the black hole in their histories. The art of Mira Hermoni-Levine is focused on this struggle. In Mira’s paintings, art becomes its own site of memory, one which embodies both the struggle of the individual artist, and simultaneously one which reflects the generation to which the artist belongs. Remembrance as a haunting, as a form of truth-telling, as a search for the self and for one’s history, lies at the heart of this project.

For Mira, painting is about bringing light out of darkness:

I work with layers, covering the white canvas until it becomes black brown. Only then do I scrape the canvas and bring forth the images from underneath, covering it again with other layers of paint [. . . ] the palette knife becomes a surgical knife by which I dig, I befriend, what I find underneath. It is an exploration in the living flesh, gentle but not sterile. (Hermoni-Levine, January 1988)

Mira begins by covering the canvas with heavy layers of undiluted oils, applying the paint with a palette knife, a long, slow process that takes one to two months to complete because it requires waiting for the individual layers to dry. The layers of dark paint represent the past, where Mira’s subject, her family’s history, lies buried. Mira’s work is an act of recovery; it is a dialogue with the past.

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