In February 2012 the Jewish Historical Institute opened a unique exhibit dedicated to the photographs of Julia Pirotte. Together with the magnificent photographs it unearths the forgotten artist, a woman with a fascinating personality and life story.
Pirotte was born in Końskowola in the Lublin region to a family of poor Polish Jews. Together with her two siblings she was involved in communist activity from an early age and during the Second World War she was part of the resistance in the south of France. After returning to Poland she was the only photographer who documented the Kielce Pogrom in 1946. Her wonderful photos, taken in 1948 during the World Congress of Intellectuals in Wrocław, have also survived. Julia Pirotte’s life was full of dramatic moments. She lost her Belgian husband, whose name she kept, during the war. Her parents shared the tragic fate of other Lublin Jews and were murdered by Nazis. The Gestapo murdered her sister who was part of the French resistance, and whose beautiful photograph is part of the exhibition. Her brother never returned from a USSR labor camp.
The exhibition contains over fifty Julia Pirotte photographs from a collection she donated to the Jewish Historical Institute shortly before her death. They are mainly photographs from the 40’s and 50’s, going back to the war, which the artist spent in Marseilles. Whether it was occupied France or post-war Poland struggling to rebuild, Pirotte captured the everyday lives of simple people with great passion and intuition. Her art is most completely expressed in the portraits which prominently feature not only the faces but also the hands of her subjects. Some of the most interesting pieces of the exhibition were the portraits of celebrities such as Edith Piaf or Pablo Picasso.
A catalog with a selection of the artist’s photographs was created to accompany the exhibition — it is the first Polish album of her photographs.
The Belgian Embassy took honorary patronage over the exhibit, media patronage was provided by culture.pl.
The exhibition took place in the JHI’s Gallery between February 16th and June 20th 2012.