Dresden bombing explored at Highgate Gallery

Alsion Oldham looks at the brave and eloquent printmaking venture by Monica Petzal.

The Dresden Project: Indelible Marks, a new exhibition at the Highgate Gallery, is the outcome of a brave and eloquent printmaking venture by Monica Petzal.

She describes it as an ongoing reflection on her maternal family, Jews who moved from East Prussia to Dresden in 1924. Initially the city provided them with stability, prosperity and a rich cultural life, but from 1933 until their departure for London in 1936 it repressed and excluded them. “It was subsequently destroyed by the country which had given them safe haven and a life free from persecution,” says Petzal.

The project explores her family archive, contemporary historical documents and her own experiences.

Her first visit to the city with her family in 1985 turned into a tragedy. Her mother Lore was so traumatised that she had a breakdown and died the following year. In 2013 Petzal spent a month making prints at the Grafikwerkstatt Dresden and found the city an uncomfortable place to be British and a Jew. “In a city dominated by a culture of remembrance, there is constant unease and the always visible traces, not only of National Socialism and the destruction of the ‘Florence of the Elbe’, but also of the harsh years under the GDR and the continuing presence now of Pegida and the far right.” The prints she made there and in London are complex collaged images of city, culture and family printed using photolithographs over monoprint. These hover above subtle painterly grounds.

Early prints explore the family’s history; later works focus on the War in the Air and its lead character, Bomber Harris, and the heritage of devastation, including the prevalence of Neo Nazi activity. Detailed text panels accompany each image of this moving exhibition, which was shown earlier this year in Dresden as part of the 70th commemoration of the bombing of the city by the Allies.

Monica Petzal will talk about her work in the gallery at 2.30pm on Saturday and Sunday this week and next.

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Until October 22 at 11 South Grove N6. Tuesday to Friday 1pm to 5pm, Saturday 11am to 4pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. For details of the project, visit monicapetzal.com