The Riga Ghetto in the Drawings of Aleksandra Beļcova

The purpose of this exhibition is to trace how the individual reacts to the tragedy that unfolds next to him. Latvian artist Aleksandra Beļcova created the series of drawings as a kind of therapy while observing the Holocaust. The digital version of the exhibition was created as part of the project “Art and the Holocaust: Reflections for a Common Future”.

Drawings by Beļcova from the “Series of the Riga Ghetto” after the war and until the artist’s death in 1981 were preserved in her apartment, among other works. After the death of Beļcova’s daughter Tatjana Suta (1923-2004), in accordance with her will, the family’s apartment in the center of Riga and the artworks in it, as well as the private archive of Aleksandra Beļcova and her husband Roman Suta became the property of the Latvian National Museum of Art, and now constitute the main collection of a museum named after both artists.

When describing the museum collection, it did not immediately become clear that the numerous drawings depicting a crying woman and two children had something to do with the ghetto. The memoirs written by the artist helped to clarify this issue; they contained references to the acquaintance depicted in the drawings, and to the sketches themselves. For most of them, the same poor quality paper was used, they have the same format and, obviously, they were once in the same notebook along with other drawings dedicated to the theme of the Holocaust.

One of the sketches is dated, sculptures of the artist’s daughter and portrait sketches with her at the appropriate age on other sheets of the notebook leave no doubt that all these drawings were created during the war, when the artist did not have access to good materials and high-quality paper. Back in Soviet times, the large self-portrait was included in a private collection (it belonged to the Latvian sculptor Mārtiņš Zaurs (1915-1998), now it is in the Zuzāns family collection).

Neither the drawings nor the self-portrait have ever been exhibited or published.

In the fall of 2017, the Žanis Lipke Memorial hosted the exhibition “Drawings of the Riga Ghetto by Aleksandra Beļcova”, which included a large part of this series, including a self-portrait from a private collection. In turn, all the drawings of the series, pastels, watercolors and a self-portrait, which now forms the core of this virtual exhibition, were published in the exhibition catalog.

In a virtual exhibition created by the Museum “Jews in Latvia” in cooperation with the Latvian National Museum of Art, all works from this series can be seen in 4 thematic sections: “(Jews) on the Streets of Riga and in the Ghetto”, “Imagining the Unthinkable: Scenes of Murder”, “Grieving Mother”, “Self-Portrait – Requiem for Tragedy”. The exhibition is complemented by a story about the Riga ghetto and the artist Aleksandra Beļcova.