Violence and trauma informs artwork

Former editor of the Cape Jewish Chronicle, Desrae Saacks, recently showed some of her paintings at a group exhibition marking the end of the 2023 Sessions programme for visual artists. 

Her body of work developed as a response to a trip to Lithuania that she undertook earlier this year – a trip that prompted her to reflect on her personal, familial and community identity, and to acknowledge how generational trauma has shaped her and others within her community. 

Desrae explains: 

“I recently travelled to Lithuania, the country of my grandparents’ birth. I breathed the air and stood on the ground that had hosted generations of my family – and learned the horrific fate of those who had stayed behind. Along with the vast majority of Lithuania’s sizable Jewish community, they were shot to death in mass graves in 1941.

Travelling around the country, I was aware of the violence that lay buried just below the surface; and felt the palpable absence of a recently erased community in a country teeming with ghosts.

This journey offered a profound opportunity for me to engage with my personal and cultural identity; and, on an expanded level, to grapple with the centrality of violence and trauma as an ever-repeating part of the human story. I am interested in how the residual effects of micro and macro acts of violence linger on a cellular, vibrational and energetic level, shaping our environment, our culture, our bodies and our psyches.

My practice is strongly rooted in a love of oil paint – a wondrous and generous substance that engages me on a tactile, intellectual, and spiritual level – and holds an energy and plasticity that offer boundless expressive potential.

I reference a Eurocentric culture that informed my childhood and education with depictions of martyrdom, horror and the grotesque – in the fairy tales that nurtured my imagination, and the paintings that inform my practice.” 


• Published in the November 2023 issue – Click here to start reading.

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