Fractured Legacy (2021)
Museum Peter August Böckstiegel,
[In] Fractured Legacy, we encounter [Mia Weinberg’s] ancestors, members of a family that had lived in Werther for generations, some of them highly respected and, at the beginning of the 20th century, successful merchants and entrepreneurs. At the time Werther had a Jewish community, a synagogue, a Jewish cemetery. The Nazis saw to it that there are hardly any traces left of all this.
David Riedel, Director of the Museum Peter August Böckstiegel, Werther, Germany
from the foreword to the exhibition catalogue
In 1939, when my parents were children, they were forced to flee from their homes in Germany as Jewish refugees. Growing up in London, I never felt that I truly belonged in the UK, but I had never given much thought to my identity. It wasn’t until I moved to Canada—a couple of years before enrolling at Emily Carr College of Art and Design—that I came to realize I was much more comfortable than I had been in England to disclose to people I met that I was Jewish. After settling in Vancouver, I finally began an exploration into who I am as a Jewish woman with German heritage.
As an art student, my focus gradually turned to photo-based work, but not with a camera. I created my own negatives from photocopies on acetate sheets. Using small historic family photographs, I created text and image based work about my grandparents and great grandparents.
In 1994, my father and I traveled to his childhood home of Werther, Germany. As we walked in Werther’s small Jewish cemetery, I recorded our conversation which generated the 3-track audio that accompanies the installation. One track is my father’s voice as he is telling me about my family, including those who did or did not get out of Germany alive; how I was related to all the people buried there; and who among them have living children that I know. Another track of the audio is my voice, sitting alone in the cemetery and pondering aloud about all these people who are connected to me. The final audio layer is something I grew up always hearing my father talk about, but until I was there I had never experienced anything like it. It is the sound of the songbirds in his village.
In 2021, the projected image component, along with some related work I had created in my earlier explorations of self-identity, finally made its way home to an audience of people who truly understood it. My work is the first exhibition of a contemporary artist shown at the Museum Peter August Böckstiegel. “The specific location of her forthcoming exhibition in the town of Werther, Germany allows for the work to be shown at ‘home’ to an audience who are its real subject,” writes Renée Van Halm. “Mia’s story will not be lost on her audience there. Her work and the discussions around it will form a significant element of the continued reconciliation efforts that the German people make with not forgetting their past. Fractured Legacy takes the personal and makes it political.”
It is my hope that showing my work in Germany will contribute one more voice to the fight against anti-Semitism and racism.
Please scroll down past the images to read an update on this project.
My expedition to Germany in 2021 made a significant impact on my life and on my art career. The town of Werther was my father’s idyllic boyhood home before he was sent away on the Kindertransport at age 14 to escape from the NAZIs. My mother was also forced to flee, leaving her childhood home of Gelsenkirchen, to seek a new home in America. Growing up as the daughter of refugees, I had always felt antipathy and a certain amount of dread towards Werther, towards Germany as a country, and towards the German people. It is hard to put into words what it’s like to experience such a dramatic shift in feelings about my personal relationship to these places and these people. The responses to Fractured Legacy from those who attended my presentations and from other visitors at the exhibition, have given me a profound sense of joy. And now, for the first time, I have been able to leave my mark on that community. I have brought my artwork to the place of my ancestors, sharing my family’s story and our strong connection to Werther, and I have witnessed my installation affecting people on a deeply personal level. Even though the components of Fractured Legacy were created during and immediately following my final year at art school twenty-five years ago, I saw how the work held the power to move contemporary viewers and, as they told me, to significantly shift their understanding of the impact of the holocaust.
The citizens of Werther (including the Mayor), the Director of the Museum Peter August Böckstiegel and the Traces of Jewish Life in Werther Working Group (who made all this possible) were so appreciative of my art that they decided the entire work should have a permanent home in Werther. They have found a sponsor to purchase Fractured Legacy for the town. It will remain in Germany, the place where it can have the greatest impact in the years ahead.
In April 2022, I returned to Germany to install Fractured Legacy at the Jewish Museum of Westphalia in Dorsten.