Asking for Nelly

A durational performance walk in public space

March 25th 2019, Ioannina, Greece

Nelly Levy (born 1911) was the younger sister of my great-grandmother. All I know about her is that she was born and raised in Ioannina, that she was engaged twice and married once and that she was sent to Auschwitz, where she was murdered along with other 1,759 Jewish Romaniotes from Ioannina, on March 25th, 1944, through Larisa and Thessaloniki. On the 75th Memorial Day of the deportation, March 25th 2019, I stood on Mavili square, the main square of Ioannina next to the lake, the spot in which all Jews were collected before the deportation. I was wearing my History Dress (made in collaboration with art students from the University of Ioannina during May 2018), which functions as an archive for the memory of the women of the Romaniote community. I have carried against my stomach a projector, which blinded by passers standing in front of me, but at the same time, led the way towards which I was walking. I first walked to the old Romaniote synagogue „Kahal Kadosh“ behind the walls of the Kastro, the old Ottoman City of Ioannina. When reaching it, the light coming out from the middle of my body turned into an image, that of Nelly. From there, my walk continued towards the house where Nelly was born and grew up in, and the last place where she was living. The same house in which her sister, my great-grandmother, was born and raised at, and where the family spent a few months together before my grandmother with her brother and parents escaped to Athens, where they could hide with fake identification cards as Christians, and survive the war. Nelly and all those who stayed behind, weren’t there anymore when the war ended. The walk through the city of Ioannina, a place full of memories and lost lives, resembles the walk of Shulamit through the streets of Jerusalem, which symbolizes utopia, asking for her beloved one, may it be king Shlomo (Solomon), God or home. At the same time, Jerusalem symbolizes a dream while Ioannina is a place of (real) memory, which was largely erased by genocide, by wars, by displacement and by time. By searching and asking for Nelly, I am asking to know more about the knowledge that was lost, about how national and patriarchal structures are becoming devastating to collective memory, but also about Nelly, beyond her personal story of her or her parents' search to marry her, whose failure led to her return home and eventual deportation, also represents the story of the community she came from, and notions of the search for memory and home. This performance was part of the project, research, and fieldwork: Textured (Hi)Stories: ReMembering, kindly supported by Asylum Arts and by The School of Fine Arts (MA programme in Exhibition Curating) of the University of Ioannina

Filmed by Mala Argiropoulou