The inaugural exhibition of sculptor and photographer Gitl Wallerstein-Braun opened on Sunday at Riccardo Giaccherini, a top central London art gallery.
Gitl Wallerstein-Braun is no ordinary artist. As a 56-year-old mother of eight children from the Stamford Hill haredi community, she took up art only 10 years ago.
However, due to a great natural talent and sheer persistence she secured a place at the leading art school in the country, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Last year she graduated with distinction in Fine Arts and is rapidly rising to become one of the most exciting new artists in recent years.
Wallerstein-Braun is the daughter of Holocaust survivors Feivel (Erno) and Irma Wallerstein of Budapest. She was born in Haifa. When she was four years old her family moved to Mea She’arim.
However, because of the family’s desperate housing situation, where she shared one basement room with her parents and her four brothers, she was placed in a nearby orphanage. She draws from her experiences of a traumatic childhood in her art.
In 1968, she married the young rabbinical scholar Mayer (Marton) Braun and settled in Stamford Hill. Marton is a leading collector of prewar Jewish art – which prompted Wallerstein-Braun’s interest in the art world – as well as a best-selling Hebrew novelist, whose collection of short stories has been translated and published in Russian.
Wallerstein-Braun’s preferred medium is digital photography printed on canvas at the highest resolution and quality. The subject matter is often fragments of Hebrew manuscripts: ancient, medieval and more recent. Her other body of work is as striking. She arranges, folds and produces remarkable patterns and creases out of sheets of white cloth, which she then photographs. The resulting artworks are visually arresting and though superficially simple are uniquely powerful.
Fellow artist David Breuer-Weill says: “Gitl presents images that appear to be fragments of a lost and destroyed world, reminiscent of the fragments of Torah scrolls which the Nazis used to make mundane items. She ‘rescues’ these fragments from the scrap-heap of a tragic history and by setting them against dark backgrounds emphasizes their treasured status. They become like jewels set against a foil. As a child of Holocaust survivors, her parents survived against the most unthinkable odds having experienced inconceivable cruelty. Gitl herself is like the diamond salvaged from all that darkness, and this is reflected in her Jewish images, precious fragments of surviving text.”