Portrait of Helen Lewis

34.5 x 22.5cm
Sarah Longley


Pen and ink on paper *

Provenance:  from the artist’s studio.  Shown in Sarah Longley’s solo exhibition.

One of a series of pen and ink drawings from Ghetto, a collaborative project with the artist’s father.  Michael Longley‘s poetry collection Ghetto is published by Andrew J Moorhouse Fine Press Poetry.

This portrait is of Helen Lewis (1916 – 2009), Holocaust survivor and choreographer, who by her extraordinarily strong life force and the kindness of a few survived “the greatest nightmare ever dreamed by man.” (Ian McEwan)  Her memoir, ‘A Time to Speak,’ is published by Blackstaff Press, Belfast (copies are available in the gallery) and includes a Foreword by Michael Longley.   The artist Sarah Longley explains:

“. . . Ghetto is dedicated to Helen Lewis, who survived Auschwitz and Terezín before finding her way to Belfast, where she worked as a choreographer. She taught me dancing as a little girl. I had been thinking about Helen and reading memoirs such as her own wonderful book A Time to Speak and Night by Elie Wiesel. I needed to do something creative with the emotions I was feeling. This was also the time when we were witnessing the horrendous 21st century suffering of the Syrian refugees. The poem Ghetto was a way in. I nervously sketched out a few images and ideas of how I could present such a complex, powerful poem. I focused on the first three sections. It was an emotional process. I used my daughter Amelia as a model for the little girl in the second section: ‘The little girl without a mother behaves like a mother //With her rag doll to whom she explains fear and anguish’.  I also used my own photographs and bits and pieces to illustrate the first verse of ‘Ghetto’, which lists items which might be packed when you are abruptly forced to leave home: ‘Because you will suffer soon and die, your choices//Are neither right nor wrong’. I believe that we must try to picture ourselves and our families enduring such hell on earth.

“…. It was a challenging task but I’m very proud of the book especially as right-wing xenophobia is simmering throughout Europe.” – Sarah Longley, February 2019