Shoah Film Collection -  Interview Project

Graupe-Pillard, Grace

Grace Graupe-Pillard
US visual artist

Her film
Nowhere to Go

10 questions

1.Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I was born and raised in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, NYC, the child of German Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany. Art was respected in my family home; my father taking us to Museums on weekends. He was an architect and my mother was a dressmaker who was quite creative, designing beautiful clothes to help supplement my father’s income. As a young teenager I went to one of New York City’s specialized schools, Music And Art High School which concentrated on art, though I felt a bit discouraged just focusing on one speciality so early in my life.

I then went on to City College of NY where I majored in History and Political Science and minored in Literature. A world of ideas opened up for me. I was challenged to question and think for myself, which was both exhilarating and painful. I became aware of power and the “abuse of power”. I went to College in the 1960”s, a time of great turmoil and upheaval. I also became interested in Marxism and took classes in Russian history and literature. I then continued my studies in Graduate School at City University of NY (CUNY) with the intent to concentrate on Russian Area Studies. After one year I realized that this was not the direction I wanted my life to go. I was not an academic and I missed doing something that felt more personal.

I began to take classes at The Art Student’s League of NY drawing from the model five days a week for 3 years. Most importantly I finally felt comfortable in my own skin, recognizing that I had found a pursuit that could engage me for my whole life. Over the years, my family history and educational background has informed my work with its focus on political and social content. For the past decade, I have been painting and digitally manipulating photographs, exhibiting large archival pigment prints addressing war, collateral damage, and “the politics of fear”, as well as the role of women in society. As I grow older I am fascinated by how aging impacts a woman’s view of self and how others view her.

2.When, how and why started you filming?

I started making videos in 2006 when I bought a new iMac computer that included iMovie software. Being a painter, I was used to a still medium, so working with a time-based medium involved quite a learning curve. I had always fantasized about making movies (I love film and write a Movie Blog at and for the past few years, with all the technical and accessible innovations of the computer and video cameras, I am finally able to realize those early dreams.

3. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles, etc? Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

I have certain ideas that I work with in all the various media at my disposal ie: painting, photography and videos. My subjects include issues of desirability, personal outcries against the treatment of women in many societies, the dismissive attitudes toward the elderly population, and the casualties of war and conflicts.

My working method involves gathering video clips that I have taken with my Flip Mino HD or more recently a Sony RX 100, which I organize into file folders on my computer for future use. When I begin a new video I create a linear tapestry of what might seem as disparate impressions that stimulate my interest; including paintings, appropriated materials, historical clips, and what I perceive of as the majestic and conversely the inconsequential elements of the world around me. I then overlay, collage and weave imagery to forge a fresh and personal view on my topic. I have begun to compose and mix my own music using Wolfram Tones and “chance” to mix sounds adding layers upon layers so that the final result adds emotional resonance to the piece.

4.What was the reason to start your film included in Shoah Film Collection. Tell me the story behind your film? Why did you choose the given form of representation? Is your film included in Shoah Film Collection the first one dealing with the Holocaust?

NOWHERE TO GO – ONE FAMILY’S EXPERIENCE is the first video that I had ever done dealing directly with the Holocaust – a series of 10 large pastel/cutout/ canvas drawings executed between 1990-1993 based on my own family’s Holocaust experience. Ten years later, when I started working with video, I envisioned incorporating music and narration in conjunction with these very same drawings creating a fuller sensory perception utilizing the element of time and historical footage.

5. What kind of meaning has the Holocaust to you personally? Are your family or friends affected or did the topic come by chance?

70 members of my family were killed in the Holocaust including my paternal grandparents, so the dire threatening effects of violent upheaval has permeated my family and my very being to this day. My parents were fortunate to be able to immigrate to NYC in 1939 though the impact of the War and the evisceration of my family haunted my parents throughout their lives.

6. Besides the historical relevance related to the persecuted Jews and other people, the Holocaust has a universal relevance. Why is the Holocaust affecting all humans anywhere?

The Holocaust affects humans in contemporary times, because the brutality of ethnic cleansing has not ended, and the inhumanity of man over one’s fellow human being continues to this very day.

7. Now, nearly 70 years after World War II, unfortunately the last Holocaust survivors will be dying soon, and no authentic witness is left to transfer the memory of the Holocaust. The Holocaust is about to be marginalized and dehumanized to any other historical incident, whereby it is measured by its final result and less as an escalating process, countless human individuals were undergoing. What do you think might be ways to re-humanize, touch people again emotionally and keep vivid the memory this way?

We can fight for peace and righteousness – an oxymoron but a noble one. We can use the power of history, art and culture to be a lodestone to educate our future leaders on how to deal with conflict and upheaval in a rational, humane way.

8. As a phenomenon, the Holocaust is blasting human imagination, which makes it nearly impossible for people to identify themselves with. What needs to be done, that people many find ways for self-identifying? What can do art for it?

Art can bring visual imagery into one’s consciousness. Beauty can be seductive and subtly plant seeds of generosity, mercy and compassion in the hope of perhaps settling our differences. At the least art can propel dialogue.

9. After the Holocaust and World War II, the traditional (static) visual art media were failing in transferring the memory of the Holocaust, while literature, theatre, music and film were much more successful. On the other hand, due to the new technologies, the boundaries between the “arts” dissolve nowadays and the doors are open to a new interdisciplinary approach. What are the chances for this new (interdisciplinary) perception based on socializing concepts for keeping vivid the memory of the Holocaust? In which way have they to influence the manifestations of Shoah Film Collection via the interventions like a symposium, artists meetings, workshops, exhibitions, performances, screenings, artists talks, discussions etc.

All of the above are valid vehicles of raising awareness and bearing witness. Though I disagree that so-called ”static” media were “failing to transfer the memory of the Holocaust.” Great series of paintings/drawings can convey the same potency as film/performance/mixed media. It all depends on the work itself. Francisco Goya’s Disasters of War – a series of 82 prints created between 1810-1820 are still the most graphic, and commanding indictment of war, lingering eternally in my sensibility.

10. What are your future artistic plans? Do you plan to work on new projects dealing with the Holocaust or related topics like “collective trauma caused by totalitarianism”?

My work has been dealing with those very issues since I began as an artist and will continue to do so. In a world where terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and cultural upheaval have dominated the news headlines, my paintings, photographs and videos focus on the devastating effect of war and its impact on the civilian population.

Under the broad title, DISPLACED, my paintings in particular correlate the displacement of civilians in war-torn countries with a visual disintegration of form, evident in both the creative process and in the final painted product. In each painting, the chaos of cultural disintegration is symbolized by the fragmentation of the picture plane. With repeated editing and” filtering” in computer programs reiterating the filtering of information, I appropriate images from journalistic sources, “blowing apart the reality” of the photograph so that the final result is distilled and disintegrated from its original context, and reduced into unpredictably flatly colored eccentric shapes further emphasizing the fragmentation of form and removal from its original source. The process of translating these manipulated images into oil paintings involves a change in scale, color and texture, portraying a seductive beauty that reflects the political “sanitization” of the horrors of war.

Works of mine can be viewed at The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at The University of Minnesota.
Videos can be seen on: