Interview with Jan Feldman: “Artists must have a lot of courage”
In 2021, we will celebrate 1700 years of Jewish life in Germany. What does this year of celebration mean for the coexistence of Jews and non-Jews in Germany for you personally?
We can look back on a very long period of coexistence: 1700 years. During that time, there were good moments, but also many dark periods. We must work together to ensure that in our modern society, everyone feels that they belong, but still see history critically and do not forget it.
For me personally, it means knowing that I, or rather my culture, has roots in this country. And not just since yesterday, but for the past 1700 years.
Did you immediately want to engage with the Jewish perspective in art, or was that a process?
It was absolutely a process. Every artist is looking for inspiration. At some point, I asked myself the question: What inspires me at this point in my life? Since I feel connected to Jewish culture, I realized that the answer to my question was right in front of me: the culture, the people who inspire me, are here around me. And these are also the people I perhaps understand best.
The more I asked those around me what issues people are concerned with, the clearer it became to me that Jewish life in Germany is unfortunately only associated with a few issues. However, that does not correspond to our perceived reality. Above all, we young Jews are much more than that. We are people who help shape society, who develop in different areas, and we are people who shape our future society.
How do you think art can contribute to making Jewish life in Germany visible today and in the future?
I think art is an important medium to make Jewish life visible because through art you manage to address people in their hearts. That’s how it was in the past and that’s how it is today. I think there can’t be enough people who participate artistically and make Jewish life visible. People who say: we are here, we help shape things, we live here.
Your online exhibition “Jewersity,” which you are publishing for the #2021JLID celebration year, aims to show the diversity of voices of Jewish life in Germany. In what way?
When you hear the term “Jew,” many people first think of antisemitism, the Shoa or hostility toward Israel. But in all the people of my generation, I see that we are much more than that, and that’s what I want to express through my artistic means.
It is enormously important that we maintain the culture of remembrance. I believe that there can be no healthy future without remembering what happened. But I think it’s just as important to illuminate what Jewish people are today.
What social issue that has an impact on contemporary German-Jewish culture did you want to highlight with your work?
It’s about a better mutual understanding. It’s clear that you often only read about Jews in books and you may not encounter Jews on a daily basis. I would like to change that. The project is intended to focus on the presence of Jews in Germany.
What would be the greatest success of this work for you?
On the one hand, I hope that it reaches as many people as possible. On the other hand, with my modest means, I’m trying to help convey the coexistence of Jews and non-Jews.
You have been part of the German art scene for several years. How have you experienced anti-Semitism during this time?
Fortunately, I myself have not really experienced antisemitism. But in my circle of acquaintances there are some people who were in the synagogue in Halle during the attack. Therefore, it would be naïve and wrong to conclude that I have not experienced antisemitism and that it therefore does not exist. No, it certainly does exist.
What challenges do Jewish artists in Germany have to face?
That depends on whether you identify as a Jewish artist or not.
In any case, I think Jewish artists have to be courageous. To be brave, to show themselves and to say: We are here and we make art. That’s basically the way it is. Artists have to be a bit more courageous and provocative in order to draw attention to certain social wrongs.
What expectations or wishes for the future of Jewish life in Germany do you associate with the year of celebration?
I hope that this celebratory year will be successful for everyone who takes part in it. I hope that we will all reach out to many people together and that we will meet and communicate with each other again after a difficult time during the Covid-19 crisis that we have gone through together. I think that actions like “Schalömchen Köln” are fantastic because they show presence, warmth and above all, openness.
I hope that the celebratory year will showcase a lot of different people and that we will present ourselves as a society that is much more than the topic of antisemitism.