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Mischling 1

Mischling 1

by Sara Davidmann

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Mischling 1 by Sara Davidmann is an investigation into the fate of the artist’s family during the Holocaust. The book connects past and present, silence and story, memory and identity through family photographs, propaganda, artworks, texts, artefacts and documentation. These materials are interwoven to reveal personal and collective stories of great loss and survival. The publication of the book coincided with the exhibition, My name is Sara, at Four Corners Gallery, London from 27 August – 18 September 2021.

Awards: Shortlisted for the Rencontres d’Arles Book Awards 2022 in the Photo-Text Category

More about this book

'We are all the product of mixing, a reflection of our autonomy, one that creates a space in which the imagination works its magic, in light and darkness, a quest for identity that draws on memory and the past, taking us into our present, and on to a future.'

Philippe Sands from the Foreword to the book

The starting point for the project was Davidmann's discovery of a family photo-album and some notes hand-written in German that had never been translated. Together, these tell a story that her father had never been able to talk about: that of the German Jewish side of the family and what happened to them at the hands of the Nazis. The photo-album was compiled by the artist's aunt Susi who, together with her younger brother Manfred (the artist's father), survived the Holocaust by escaping from Berlin on the Kindertransport, arriving in Britain in 1939.

The early photographs in Susi's photo-album show a family enjoying life together in Berlin. The photographs had all been torn out of another album, and the last photograph from Germany was taken in 1941. The photographs of Susi's family began again in 1946 in Britain after the end of World War II. Davidmann moved back and forth between the album pages to piece together who had disappeared in the space between. Her findings were supplemented with research at the Wiener Library in London and in The Arolsen Archives, formerly the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Germany, where she found records of family members and their movements through this period.

The book's title Mischling 1 is drawn from the term used—following the 1935 Nuremberg Laws—in Nazi Germany to classify those who had both Jewish and Aryan grandparents. This pejorative term translates as 'half-breed' or 'mixed-race'. Using this idea of categorization, Davidmann, having two Jewish grandparents, would be classified as a Mischling first class. Engaging with this issue, she photographed blood samples both from herself and family under a microscope using a microbiology camera system. The resulting vivid, abstract images featured in the book suggest the mixing of blood and heritage within the samples.

Blood was used in the making of two further series of artworks. Digital negatives were made from original photographs from Susi's album. The images were then reprinted in the darkroom using chemical interventions and by mixing the artist's blood with photographic developer. The images were printed using the artist's blood – creating a direct connection with the past and present. In further interventions, drawing, bleaching, burning, and scratching the surface of the prints simultaneously erased and revealed the original images in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways. The book also includes photograms made using a plait of Davidmann's childhood hair - connecting the shaving of heads of Jews in concentration camps with the artist's life in the present.

In this book, the artworks and photographs sit alongside reproductions of documents from the Nazi regime, and a list of some of the (more than four hundred) Anti-Semitic Laws and Regulations passed in the Third Reich between 1933–1945. The merging of this documentation with photographs depicting the traces of Davidmann's family present a compelling alarm call from the past.

Mischling 1 is published with the support of a Philip Leverhulme Prize awarded by The Leverhulme Trust.

Published September 2021
230 x 300mm, 116 pages, 105 images.
65 colour images, 10 images printed in metallic silver on black uncoated paper, 5 images printed metallic copper on black uncoated paper
ISBN 978-1-910401-55-2

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  • Sara Davidmann's work is internationally exhibited and published. Over the last decade, her work has focused on her own family and family history. Her project, 'Ken. To be destroyed', which tells the story of her transgender uncle, was published by Schilt (2016), edited by the writer and curator Val Williams and exhibited internationally. Awards for her work include the Philip Leverhulme Prize, Fulbright Hays Scholarship, four Arts and Humanities Research Council awards, an Association of Commonwealth Universities Fellowship, and a Wellcome Trust Small grant. Davidmann is a Reader in Photography at London College of Communication, University of the Arts London.

  • 'In Britain, the story of the Kindertransport that transported my father and aunt to safety when they were children is frequently in the media... I would not in any way want to undermine the remarkable act of saving 10,000 lives. But it concerns me that while the Kindertransport narrative is consistently repeated and collectively remembered, the refusal to give sanctuary to Jewish refugees that is evidenced by the Evian Conference and the White Paper's restriction of Jewish immigration—seem to have been virtually erased from non-Jewish British memory. The nuances and complexities of Britain's link with this past appear to have been effectively whitewashed.'

    - Sara Davidmann