Ilse Kleinman and the Art of Oppression

Yesterday was a particularly special day – John and I were invited to attend the opening reception at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust for ‘The Inner World of Ilse Kleinman: Reflections on Oppression’.

Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust

Ilse and her parents fled Berlin in 1933 due to the growing antisemitism in Nazi Germany and settled in South Africa where the rise of apartheid reminded Kleinman of the cruelty and dehumanisation experienced by Jews during the Holocaust.

Dennis Kleinman

Ilse was the mother of our friend Dennis Kleinman who gave an emotional and proud opening speech on the life of his mother and the practice of her art. This was followed by a short presentation by art psychotherapist Dr. Esther Dreifus-Kattan on the background to some of Ilse’s drawings.

Ilse’s art illustrates many Holocaust and apartheid related motifs.  Her ‘Holocaust’ series offered an immediate sense of immersion in the subject, perhaps due to the small scale nature of her drawings.  As a viewer I felt drawn into the horror expressed on the faces of the subjects; the quick brutal pen strokes defined the base off-hand savagery of the oppressor and the long, tortured faces reminded me of Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’. Here was an artist who felt passionately, who empathised with the sorrows and fears of her Jewish ancestors and who recognised that same fear and terror expressed through the lives of those suffering later under apartheid in South Africa.  Politically speaking, these drawings, paintings and etchings were a warning nod to a dystopic and feral American future under the current rule of divisiveness.




The reception included a documentary on Ilse’s life narrated by her son, Dennis and my dearest friend Linda Gallagher, who spoke Ilse’s own words in short monologue form.  Both these lovely people are professional VO artists who bring everything to life with their mellifluous tones and understanding of the nuances of ‘voice’, so I found the short documentary particularly emotive.

I usually like to blog on the absurdities of life in an upbeat  way, but I was so touched by these drawings that I felt compelled to share some of them.  I guess an upbeat take on the art of oppression is the recognition that pain can result in the most beautiful and creative of endeavours. If art mirrors life, then let that art be fixed with integrity, justice and compassion.

‘Ilse Kleinman’s universal message must be heard by as many people as possible.  After the tragedy of Rwanda, it is more important than ever before that individuals rase their voices to stop injustice, to force their governments to act with integrity and in conscience.  I believe that Mrs Kleinman’s work has the capacity to persuade and mobilise a community of people to act with compassion.’

Ann Burroughs, Amnesty International 1994






Ilse Kleinman and the Art of Oppression

2 thoughts on “Ilse Kleinman and the Art of Oppression

    1. sandracain14 says:

      Thank you Madelane. Very true … when Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to support the war effort he asked, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’ x


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