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Historic arts festival at Orla Synagogue, Poland

From 20th to 25th September, a unique and innovative Arts Festival under the heading Time Recovered – Memory and Participation was held in the town of Orla in Poland, based at its historic 17th century synagogue.

The event, which received the patronage of the Polish Ministry of Culture, was run by the University of the Arts Poznań (UAP), Poland’s leading arts educational body, in association with the UK-based Foundation for Jewish Heritage (FJH) which had originally proposed the concept as an innovative new way of bringing such sites back into use, the Foundation for the Preservation of Jewish Heritage in Poland (FODZ) which owns the synagogue building, and the local Orla community.

Nine leading artists and academics from the UAP and the Białystok University of Technology took part, producing across the week a range of contemporary art pieces in various media, all in response to being situated within Orla’s majestic former synagogue.

Prof Wojciech Hora, Dean of UAP, created a dramatic installation in the synagogue’s main hall consisting of a star of david suspending a precise arrangement of stones representing a narrative based on the two Jewish women his family had hidden during the second world war. The Pygmalion Brigade Sculpture Theatre produced a striking work in front of the synagogue’s entrance of two expressive Jewish figures embracing. Another piece by Dr. Daniel Koniusz used highly sensitive recording equipment to capture sounds being emitted by the building itself.

In addition to new artistic works, workshops and performances were held for the local population and the event ended with an ‘open day’ that included a conference and finished with a moving evening concert by the Targanescu Trio filling the darkened space with soaring klezmer inspired sounds.

The artists were hosted by the Orla community which housed and fed the group throughout the week, and this established a close bond between the artists and locals, adding to the impact of the whole experience.

Plans are now being considered for follow up activities.

The event coincided with a ceremony dedicating a memorial stone at the former Jewish cemetery of Orla which was addressed by Jaroslaw Sellin, Minister of State at the Polish Ministry of Culture.

Jews had lived and flourished in Orla from the 17th century and the synagogue was at its heart. In the spring of 1942, the Jewish community was forcibly moved into a ghetto and, later that year, transported to Treblinka extermination camp.

Michael Mail, Chief Executive of FJH, remarked, “it was a very special week which saw a group of extraordinary Polish artists produce outstanding work, all in the context of the surroundings of Orla’s remarkable synagogue. The event re-animated a beautiful building, and was a moving tribute to a lost community.”

Piotr Puchta, Chief Executive of FODZ, commented “this special programme in Orla served to bring attention to its historic 17th century synagogue and stimulate the interest of a wide range of actors in ensuring its proper maintenance and preservation. The organisers also aimed at starting discussions on the future use of Jewish heritage sites that could answer the needs and expectations of various contemporary partners.”

Orla Programme
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