Looking forward and back, with van Erkelen’s fortune teller

Looking forward and back, with van Erkelen’s fortune teller


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As a liberator of the European concentration camps, America became a haven for survivors of the Shoah. The sculpture portrayed in this painting of the three figures of a father, mother and child was created by Michael Alfano for the Jericho Jewish Centre in New York. It is a good example of American Holocaust monuments, which convey a sense of continuity to American Jews and have become tokens of catharsis and self-understanding for them.[1]

As the title indicates, this painting is looking forward whilst being caught up in the fangs of the dark past. Abigail has portrayed the father, mother and child figures surrounded by marionette-puppet figures of Jan van Erkelens. The juxtaposition of colours in the painting, brown against black with light pink and green has a startling effect. The child is eagerly leading his hesitant parents forward towards the future. The father is cautiously attempting to divine the future by manipulating the strings of van Erkelens stringed puppet Xita de Waarsegster, the “wise and helpful fortune teller” who always prophesies positive things for the future with her cards. The mother, reluctant to rush forward, is being pulled by the child and is holding onto the father. She is looking backwards to the past, like Lot’s wife, towards van Erkelens’ “moerasgeest” (swamp spirit) that floats in the air behind them. This spirit creature emerges from the fathomless deep and frightens other beings, yet is powerless in reality. When it sinks back into the swamp it tries to grip everyone around to pull them down with it. In the lower sphere, at the mother’s feet, van Erkelen’s marionette of “fear” crouches with its black cloak pulled over its skull.

The red lilies interspersed about the work are Kabbalistic symbols representing the congregation of Israel in its compassion and mercy. The pomegranates are Jewish symbols of righteousness. Thorns and thistles, taken from Genesis, mean hardship. In the top right corner a butterfly within a mandala symbolises reincarnation. It is connected to six small angels of compassion that are flying through the heavens.

[1] Peter Novick. Holocaust Memory in America. Young, 1994:162.

Additional information

Artwork Option

A4 Print (approx 21 x 30 cm), A3 Print (approx 30 x 42 cm), A2 Print (approx 42 x 60 cm), A1 Print (approx 60 x 84 cm)


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