t. 92, Leonard Bell, Strangers Arrive: Émigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930–1980.

 

Strangers Arrive:
Émigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930–1980  by Leonard Bell. 
Auckland: AUP (2017).
RRP: $75. Pb, illustrated, 320pp.
ISBN: 1775589544, 9781775589549.
Reviewed by Cassandra Fusco.

Leonard Bell’s title signals an exploration of a particular group and their formative “entanglement” with New Zealand creativity during a specific era.[1] Although not offered as a definitive survey of historic influences, Strangers Arrive: Émigrés and the Arts in New Zealand, 1930–1980[2] is distinct in several respects from a number of erstwhile writings on migrants from Hitler’s Europe.[3]  These Continental émigrés, mostly Jewish, were people fleeing from Nazi Europe and Communist totalitarianism, as well as individuals who left of their own accord.[4]

How were these émigrés received? How did their presence, perceptions and avant-garde practices intersect with the arts and other professions of Anglophile, nationalist New Zealand?[5]  Has their influence and legacy been acknowledged and archived within the dominant discourse? If not, why not?

Across six chapters[6] these and other central issues are addressed as Bell investigates the effective creative and critical contributions of an array of these individuals.[7] Frequently drawing on primary or previously unpublished sources, he contextualises émigrés’ heuristic input – into academia and teaching, architecture (affordable and related to health and the environment[8]), catering, the garment industry and design, including environmental and planning matters, photography, philosophy (particularly Continental Humanism), music, publishing, theatre, films and the visual arts – and their significant role as benefactors and patrons of the humanities.[9]  Bell comments that his approach is ‘episodic rather than encyclopaedic’, drawing in broad strokes the characteristics of émigrés’ careers and relationships central to their displacement and creativity.

Struggles were inevitable. Often perceived as challenging “aliens” in God’s Own, and frequently awarded ‘occupational degradation’, they were marginalised and obstructed at an individual and institutional level, supported by popular press, professional bodies, civic gatekeepers and restrictive immigration policies[10] – possibly exacerbated but not excused by post-war economic conditions.

Wherever émigrés were accepted, affinities and dialogic networks were established. Connections were forged, especially with Māori and others critical of anglophile overdrive and ‘invention’.[11] While exchange proved productive for some émigrés, others never acculturated.

Bell demonstrates that although relatively few numerically, the influence of these “outsiders” was, and remains, transformative.[12] Displacement and settlement in this country transformed this group’s work – work which in turn influenced, and continues to influence, our sensibilities. These émigrés’ cumulative legacy is beyond question yet it remains manifestly under-recognised.

Ultimately Bell addresses the overarching issue of belonging or not belonging.[13]  He explores the difference between these Continental émigrés and mid-century expatriate antipodean artists (émigrés in reverse). And it is this arc – the dialectic of departure and arrival – that invigorates this study, leavened with contemporary corollaries.[14] Forced and voluntary migrations are a global reality.

Strangers Arrive coheres around unsettledness – external and internal – as much as it does upon différences and connections. It is more than ‘a bit of cultural archeology.’[15]

The fact that the Strangers Arrive exhibition curated by Bell[16] (Gus Fisher Gallery, Auckland, November 24 / December 15, 2017) has not been scheduled to travel nationwide suggests that the silence surrounding the imprescriptible validity and value of différence continues. Why?

 

Buy or borrow Strangers Arrive. It is unsettling and informative. After all, ‘No island is entire of itself’ (pace Mr. Donne).


[1] Bell’s title also salutes the seminal work of Frderick Ost, in particular, A Stranger Arrives, 1944, pen and ink on paper, published in Tikis: Impressions in black and white (1946).

[2] Strangers Arrive is the second in the Gerrard and Marti Friedlander Creative Lives Series, following Peter Simpson’s Bloomsbury South: The Arts in Christchurch 1933-53. AUP: 2016.

[3] Particularly noteworthy amongst these: Ann Beaglehole’s A Small Price to Pay: Refugees from Hitler in New Zealand, 1936-46 (Allen and Unwin / Historical Branch, Department of Internal Affairs, 1988); Brigitte Bönisch-Brednich’s Keeping a Low Profile: An Oral History of German Immigration to New Zealand (Wellington: VUP, 2002) and Freya Klier’s Promised New Zealand, 2006 (translated into English and published by Otago University Press in 2009), works which use survivor reminiscences to document the experience of refugees from Nazism.

[4] New Zealand received between 4,500 to 5,000 displaced persons after WWII; Australia 170,000.

[5] Medicine and dentistry, agriculture and business, as well as academia and teaching, entertainment and catering (SA, p 241).

[6] Complete with extensive notes – ‘Alien Registration’, ‘Taking Pictures’, ‘New Visions’, ‘Words’, ‘Architectural Episodes’ and ‘Virtual Strangers’ (in which Bell casts MacDiarmid, Glass, Boswell and Brasch are main ‘characters’), an epilogue, index and select bibliography.

[7] They included, amongst others: Walter Auburn, Denis Adam, Tilli Frankel Aldrich, Hilda (Szabó) Altman, Franz Barta, Gerda (Eichbaum) Bell, Paul and Otti Binswanger, Pius Blank,  Marie and Alphonse Blaschke, Maja Blumenfeld, Gertrud Bodenwieser, Andre Brooké, Simon Buis, Lily Inge Byttiner (Bettina), Vladimir Čačala, Hester Carsten, Grete Christeller, Eva and Gerald Christeller, Meme Churton, Gustave Cohn, Georg Dibbern, Tibor Donner, Werner Droescher, Maria and Peter Dronke, Werner  Hannah Easterbrook-Smith, Vera Egermayer,  Ester and Helmut Einhorn,  Robert Fallak, Frederick (Feuer) Farrar, Eva Fischman, Hilda and Mario Fleischl, Otto Frankel,   Michael Friedlander, Marti and Gerrard Friedlander, Richard Fuchs, Johann Gernert, Ernst Gerson, Nina and Hans Golding, Bob Goodman, Rudi Gopas, Grete Graetzer, Olga and Walter Griesbach, Frank Gross, Marianne Haiselden, Goerge Haydyn, Patrick Hayman, Frank Hofmann, Paul Hoffmann, Salomon Holzer, Tine and Kees Hos, Otto Hubscher, Karl Jobsis, Gertrud and Joachim Kahn, Anna Kavan, Antigone Kefala, Irmgard (Irene Koppel), Hilde, Henry and Hilde Kulka, Tom Kreisler,  Martha and Hans Lachmann,   Lilli (Kraus) and Otto Mandl, Juan Matteucci, Jan Michels, Doris and Benno Monheimer, Carlotta and Peter Munz, Frederick (Neumann) Newman, Hedwig Neumann-Pisling, Kurt Nussbaum, Frederick Ost, Greta Ostova, Renzo Padovan, Vera and Helmut Pappe, Olaf Petersen, Margot Philips, Anna (Lang) and Ernst Plischke, Karl Popper, Imric Porsolt, Renata Prince, Ilse von Randow, Eva Rawnsley, Elisabeth and Ernest Reizenstein, Gregory Riethmaier, Gerhard Rosenberg, Max Rosenberg, Wolfgang Rosenberg, Max Rosenfeld, Bert Roth, Edzer (Bob) Roukema, John Rykenberg, Natan Scheinwald, Theo Schoon, Friedrich Schwarzkopf, Adolphine, Felix and Erik Schwimmer, Carl Selinger, Harry Seresin, Lilli and Richard Sharell, Wilfred Simenauer, Hilde Simon, Mirek Smíšek, Peter Snejar, Ernst Specht, Josef Sprinz,  Odo Strewe, Heinrich Susmann, Frank Szirmay, Marte Szirmay, Gisa Taglicht, Greville (Droescher) Texidor, Georg Tintner,  Fred Turnovsky, Rob Wentholt, Ans Westra, Karl Wofskehl, Marta and Erwin Ziffer, Hilde and Nicholas Zissermann.

[8] For one of the earliest recognitions of Plischke’s input, see: Linda Tyler’s, ‘The Architecture of E A Plischke’, MA Thesis University of Canterbury (1986); also Tyler’s ‘Ernst and Anna Plischke: Architecture and garden design’, for the ‘Displacement and Creativity‘ symposium, Auckland (2001).

[9] Richly illustrated (especially the work of photographers, printmakers, painters and architects) and well facilitated by Katrina Duncan’s design.

[10] The New Zealand Selection Mission stated a preference for people from the Baltic States rather than Jews or Slavs, Displaced persons from Europe, 1949-52. See also: Aliens Act 1949 (1948 No 28).

[11] See: Francis Pound’s study of nationalism and identity-building in twentieth-century New Zealand art in The Invention of New Zealand (2009).

[12] See: Jessie Neilson’s considered review, Otago Daily Times, Jan 29, 2018.

[13] Bell consistently researches cross-cultural interactions and representations in the Pacific, including the relationships between displacement and creativity, the complexities of boundaries and the negotiations of socio-cultural and mental, as well as physical and architectural spaces, as articulated in visual images and objects.

[14] Not least the current Syrian crisis.

[15] Bell comments, ‘A bit of cultural archeology shows that multiple Continental visual elements and sensibilities either enabled or assisted new ways of seeing. Making and thinking about art in New Zealand. Changes did not happen overnight, but were incremental and infiltrative, cumulatively contributing substantially to major shifts in visual art practice and thinking from the 1940s onwards’ (SA p 135).

[16] This included work by photographers Frank Hofmann and Richard Sharell, artists Kees Hos, Tom Kreisler, Frederick Ost, Theo Schoon, and architects Henry Kulka and Imric Porsolt together with works by New Zealand-born expatriates James Boswell and Douglas MacDiarmid, whose art was crucially informed by their experiences of Continental European people and pictures.

 

[


Cassandra Fusco is the Reviews Editor of takahē.