Auschwitz's postcards from hell

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The Independent Culture
"The past," runs the line, "is a foreign country. They do things differently there." Fifty years ago, one of the things they did was murder six million Jews. Today, to comprehend the reality of that nightmare, we can only look to our imagination to evoke the horror and helplessness of those overcome by the Final Solution. The word Auschwitz has the power to trigger such imaginings, and "After Auschwitz", an exhibition opening on Sunday at the Royal Festival Hall, is a brave attempt by contemporary artists to render that experience more tangible. Nineteen artists, of varying nationalities, cultures and religions, are showing work which ranges from photography to painting and mixed media. It's an impressive line-up, including Christian Boltanski, Magdalena Abakanowicz and our own John Goto and Mick Rooney. The oldest artist, Zoran Music, is an octogenarian survivor of Dachau; the youngest, Sally Heywood, an English girl of 30. Fifty years on, the paintings of Music, who managed to save hundreds of the drawings he made in the death camp, remain haunted by memories that were once his reality. But how on earth can Heywood relate to such distant events? It doesn't matter. What is important is her awareness of their reality, her willingness to admit the ever-present possibility of our descent into such barbarism, and her need to create work which is both a memorial and a caveat. If the past is a foreign country, these are the postcards from hell.

26 Feb-17 Apr, Royal Festival Hall, South Bank Centre, SE1 (071-928 8800)