“If I were not optimistic, it would not have been worthwhile surviving” – Naomi Blake.
Anita Peleg gave a talk about her mother, Naomi Blake today.
I attended not knowing what an extraordinary woman Naomi Blake had been. Not only was she a master at sculpture, but also a survivor of Auschwitz, and generous human being on top. Once more, I am left in awe of a woman’s spirit. A woman who transformed the darkness of her past by creating artworks full of future hope, empathy, and faith in humanity’s inner light. Her collection is a silent testament to the human capacity for growth, change, and healing.
Her daughter, Anita Peleg, is also an inspiration. She is author of Dedication in Sculpture (a retrospective of her mother) and is also a founding trustee of Generation2Generation. G2G ensures Holocaust testimonies are passed on to future generations and fosters empathy and understanding so lessons of the past are learned.
Anita explained how her mother Naomi had arrived in London after surviving the horrors of Auschwitz. On finding English a challenge to learn (as I would any language) and knowing only her husband, Asher Blake, she sought a new way to express herself beyond the barriers of language. This became sculpture. Sculpture gave life to her inner world and preserved the memory of many who had not survived.
Rather than explaining her creations, Naomi allowed the viewer to give meaning. Something I find deeply generous. We get to participate in her world and contribute to her meanings. For me, I see themes of protection and liberation in her work. It seems like she was unconsciously, or perhaps consciously, sculpting her future as well as memorialising the past.
Many of her figures who are initially surrounded by a protective element, later in her career are seen without. Almost as if part of Naomi herself no longer felt it was necessary. Maybe she felt safer? It seems to me her work was, and is, a conversation. Something shared to engage us, a question to answer, and not simply a means to its own end. It was for us. To be continued by us. Almost to protect us, from repeating similar patterns, going forward. Perhaps?
Naomi’s work seemed to be motivated by her desire to remember the horrifying persecution she and her family endured whilst also alluding to an almost transcendent hope. Something beyond the form, shape, or body that protects, guides, and supports in times when other humans are failing in their duty to be human. The desire to foster cooperation between people of all backgrounds sings forth from the shapes she has made and is something that vibrantly lives on through her daughter.
If you get the chance to catch the talk, please do! It will be available through the insiders/outsiders website soon.