Past and present blend together in a display of lived history currently located in the downstairs Koppelman Family Gallery of the Aidekman Arts Center. The exhibit, “Last Folio,” is a collaborative effort by photographer Yuri Dojc and media producer and documentarian Katya Krausova. Using three types of media — photography, film and a published book — the project depicts Slovakian Holocaust survivors who returned to their country after the end of World War II, and explores a now-decayed abandoned Jewish school in eastern Slovakia.
Entering the exhibit through the main doors, visitors are immediately faced with 28 of Dojc’s black and white portraits of survivors. The exhibit flows into a circular space which features a shortened nine-minute version of Krausova’s documentary film following Dojc through Slovakia, as well as Dojc’s photographs of books and other objects from the abandoned Jewish school in Bardejov, Slovakia.
Dojc emphasized the project’s unusual nature.
“This whole project is based on serendipities — this was not planned,” he said. “None of the stages were ever planned. Every stage happened by pure chance. It’s important because some people plan this kind of project, but we somehow discovered it.”
Krausova agreed, describing how she discovered the abandoned school.
“We knew where [the survivors] were, and we knew where the cemeteries were — it was a question of going there,” Krausova said at the Art Gallery’s opening reception on Thursday, Sept. 17. “Our unique moment came when, by total serendipity, we found the abandoned school.”
According to the book that accompanies the exhibit, also titled “Last Folio” (2015), the Bardejov school had been abandoned since 1942, when all those who attended were deported to concentration camps, primarily Auschwitz.
A neighbor of one of Dojc and Krausova’s interviewees first led the pair to the Bardejov school in 2006. They found the interior untouched: books and notebooks with corrections on desks and shelves, reports, birth certificates, accounting ledgers and even sugar in the kitchen cupboard. They describe these objects as “the final witnesses to a once thriving culture,” according to the Art Gallery website.
The book is mostly composed of Dojc’s photographs. Krausova, who wrote the book’s text in German and English, describes the volumes they found there: “The disintegrating tomes, the beautiful, decaying spines, all the crumbling pages are mesmerizing.” Dojc’s color photographs of these books, preserved in the same place since the school’s abandonment, take center stage.
It was also serendipity that brought Dojc and Krausova to the Tufts Art Gallery. Before making its way to Aidekman, the exhibit was featured at the United Nations in New York City and the National Library of Germany in Berlin, according to Last Folio‘s website.
Krausova explained that she had known Jonathan Wilson, the director of the Center for the Humanities at Tufts (CHAT), from their time at Oxford. After seeing her work with Dojc, Wilson reached out to her about coming to Tufts.
According to Gallery Educator and Academic Programs Coordinator Liz Canter, CHAT worked with the gallery, reaching out to Director of Galleries and Collections Amy Schlegel to bring Dojc and Krausova to Tufts.
The exhibition has been traveling internationally throughout 2015 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Dojc said. According to the Tufts Art Gallery’s website calendar, the artists will be completing a residency at CHAT from Oct. 5 to Oct. 9. During this time, the pair will take part in a number of events, including a showing of their documentary on Oct. 6.
According to Canter, the exhibition of “Last Folio” is just one manifestation of the Tufts Art Gallery’s emphasis on global citizenship.
“We’re always trying to show great contemporary work, and we are always trying to think of Tufts’ mission in terms of promoting social justice and raising awareness about global issues — all of those goals of Tufts as a whole,” Canter said.
According to English lecturer Nan Levinson, Canter has been working with other faculty and staff to spread the word about the exhibit, and there has been a strong response. Last semester, Canter ran several guided conversations with Tufts faculty that seem to have had a lasting impact.
“[The conversations] were for faculty to think about how their courses intersect with the gallery,” Levinson said, who participated in these conversations and has brought classes to the Tufts Art Gallery in past semesters. Levinson said that she plans on incorporating “Last Folio” into her classwork for the semester.
Drew Zeiba, a senior and visitor services ambassador at the Tufts Art Gallery, also emphasized the educational value of the gallery’s ongoing efforts.
“I think the gallery’s mission is not only to inform, but to educate,” Zeiba said. “By bringing people here and allowing them to move through [the exhibit], we can take it out of the historical moment and move it to the present.”