Introduction by Monica Petzal

Dissent and Displacement is about narrative and testament, identity and memory. It is about how we construct and interpret history and how we create meaning. Retelling our stories helps us understand
who we are and offers a space in which to consider how to move forward.

There was a bookshelf in our house devoted to unopened transcripts of the Nurnberg Trials and Winston Churchill’s History of the Second World War. We did not need to open the books; the shadow of my parents’ displacement, the Holocaust and World War II fell over so much of our daily life.

We were enveloped in memory and ritual. Our suburban house had been refashioned to look like the ‘Bauhaus’. We ate apple strudel off Rosenthal china with silver cutlery. My brothers and I played the Blüthner grand piano and heard Schubert lieder on the gramophone. My mother translated and taught German, a language she loved and used with her husband and all their social circle. Being Jewish did not figure as a religious practice, but as a cultural identity. My parents were enduringly grateful for the refuge that Britain had offered them, considered themselves highly assimilated, and yet fondly referred to ‘the English’ as people who were entirely different from them.

This upbringing was, of course, on a collision course with growing up in London in the 1950s and 1960s. I did my utmost to detach myself from it, turning into a rebellious teenager and student. It has taken almost fifty years of life experience for me to seriously reevaluate the significance of my history and capture the stories that I have woven into the images that follow.

I first came to Leicester in 1994 for an exhibition of the work of Conrad Felixmüller, to which I had lent the work owned by my grandparents. Leicester had also managed to borrow a privately owned Felixmüller painting of my grandmother, Sofie, which I had never seen: my grandfather had sold it in the 1960s. It was very odd to gaze at a painting of a woman I never knew, but whom I so closely resembled, down to the squint. I have returned regularly to see the developing collection and the more I learned of the history of those who contributed towards it, the more the stories grew
in my imagination.

Making prints is about the interaction of ideas and process. My way of working, which is slow, allows thoughts to change and develop. My research, because not everything is digital, has involved various boxes of letters, documents and photos that I inherited, visits to libraries and record offices, and chance conversations. It has included journeys to Germany, Holland and Belgium, to many places where I was pleased to be, but to some where I could not bear to linger. It has been the most absorbing of projects. It has changed me, and there is more work to be done.

Monica Petzal 2020