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Memento

Ruth Weisberg
American, b. 1940

1997
Lithograph
99.11

SSWB 2823

Ruth Weisberg relies on her knowledge of art and art history (UM Stamps BFA 1963 and MA 1965; Academia di Belle Arti, Perugia, Italy; Stanley William Hayter's printmaking Atelier 17) for inspiration and source material. She quotes works by Venetian painters, French Impressionists, and historical photographs. She is not a copyist, however, creating new glosses on traditional themes which encourage us to reconsider the past and what we can learn from it now. Weisberg inserts contemporary details, images of family members, and icons that modify the meaning of the original. History, memory, beliefs, and heritage are central to Weisberg’s career. She believes they can be deployed to create new kinds of imagination for viewers in which they can “project their own struggles, stories, and desires.”

Memento, a lithograph based on a pre-Holocaust class picture of Jewish students in Germany does this. It is redolent of Holocaust stories of loss and survival, of the mystery of missing family members. We see a happy group of students but know their tragic future from our past. Weisberg’s lithograph shows a soft image lifted out of the specific details of the original photograph. We do not see the particular architectural setting but a non-descript smudgy background that casts a poignant atmosphere around the students. Weisberg has given flowers to all students who hold them in their hands. By minimizing the details and specificity, Weisberg allows the print to be a warning to our current situation. The title, Memento comes from the Latin and is literally ‘remember!’ the imperative of meminisse, an injunction not to repeat the inhumane acts of the past.

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