Where will you be on 27 January?

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Artist and ceramist Clare Twomey will be on London’s Westminster Bridge. There, to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, she will hand out 2,000 spoons to passers-by. Sue Herdman discovers the story behind this, her latest collaborative art project

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The porcelain spoons for Clare Twomey’s current work have taken some five weeks to make. They are no ordinary domestic-ware. Based on remarkable pieces, made in times of terror, each is laden with meaning. Each will also carry a message  – a response to two questions posed by the artist, written on cards and again, handed out on the same bridge, on the same day a year ago.

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Courtesy Clare Twomey Studio

Courtesy Clare Twomey Studio

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What is the story behind these messages?

Twomey had been approached by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. They were launching a major arts project – The Memory Makers – in which individual survivor stories would be interpreted through different mediums, from words to film, poetry to ceramics. Seven artists were paired with seven survivors.

Clare Twomey’s partner was Nisad ‘Šiško’ Jakupovic, a Bosnian Muslim and survivor of the Bosnian War’s Omarska concentration camp. Jakupovic, who now lives in London, shared his harrowing story with Twomey. He told of his experiences, as Twomey says in a recent interview in The Times, ‘without any bias or hatred’. From those difficult-to-hear tales, she says, came the ‘idea of humanity’ as a subject to focus on.

Later she also learnt from Jakupovic how camp inmates, sent to work in an old church, had retrieved ‘tiny pieces of wood…and somebody had a fragment of broken glass’. With these they made spoons. Two former survivors, also now in London, still have their spoons, which they allowed Twomey to photograph – not without reluctance, as not only are they precious to them, but are pieces that, as she says, ‘identify that something happened’.

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Courtesy Clare Twomey Studio

Courtesy Clare Twomey Studio

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Her project now had form. She would make spoons.

The work would be called Humanity is in our Hands.

The printed invitations, sealed in an envelope with a wax seal, were given out on the bridge a year ago, carrying the following message;

‘Today you are invited to be part of a new work, your words will be placed on thousands of beautiful porcelain objects that will be made in the coming year. These objects will be handed back to the public as gifts on Westminster Bridge, on this date one year from now, 27 January, 2016. The recipients will become the custodians of your thoughts’.

They also had two questions:

‘What human qualities allow society to flourish?’

and

‘Can you describe how you have experienced this in your community?’

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Courtesy Clare Twomey Studio

Courtesy Clare Twomey Studio

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As the 2015 invitation promised, the spoons Twomey and volunteers will hand out on January 27th will carry the responses from those questions, each painted on by hand. ‘And with each one,’ Twomey told The Times, ‘there will be a short text about how these are other’s people’s thoughts, please take care of them. The role of the artwork isn’t to hold that history up…’ but more, she explained, that it should spur thoughts for the future.

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Twomey will be on the bridge from 7am to 7pm on the day.
Find out more about the project at hmd.org.uk and at claretwomey.com 

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