CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


TURAI, Hedvig
Communism, Assimilation, and Taboo: János Major’s “In Memory of Móric Scharf”

Session 8 Art and Taboo

International Business School


During the socialist era in Hungary, both Jewish identification and antisemitism were taboo topics, and historical investigation and memorialization of the Holocaust were severely limited by the political power and authority.  The Holocaust was one among several taboos, gender issues included, which were considered irrelevant to the socialist present.

The focus of this paper is an etching by Hungarian graphic artist János Major (1934–2008), in which grotesque and sexual motifs, the passive dead female body and the active, erect Jewish penis evoke the traditional antisemitic theme of the blood libel, the accusation that Jews used Christian blood in secret rituals. The Jewish male body, Major’s own body and stereotypical Jewish features were the major topics of this neo-avant-garde, oppositional artist. Major’s picture In Memory of Móric Scharf (1966) met with strong criticism, both from the official state cultural authorities and from progressive artistic circles. János Major was subject of secret police investigation and harassment. Jewishness, antisemitism were tabooed not only by the official socialist state but also by its opposition. The paper analyses how blood libel and the memory of the Holocaust interface with the self-presentation of Jewish masculinity, in a uniquely provocative way in the time of socialism.

TURAI, Hedvig 

Hedvig Turai is an art historian and critic based in Budapest, where she is currently working at the International Business School. Between 2010 and 2013, she worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art – Ludwig Museum Budapest as a museologist and researcher. She organized the Ludwig Museum lecture series “Theoretical and critical problems of the margins today,” and lead the research project “The Long Sixties.” She has co-edited Exposed Memories: Family Pictures in Private and Collective Memory (with Zsófia Bán, 2010), edited two special issues of the Hungarian journal Enigma (in 2004) on the approaches of art to the Holocaust, and organised international conferences on the Holocaust and art (with art historian József Mélyi, Goethe Institute, 2004; with writer Zsófia Ban, Goethe Institute, 2008). In 2001, she  published a book on the Hungarian painter Margit Anna. She previously taught in and coordinated the Education Abroad Program of the University of California in Budapest and has worked as an editor for Corvina Publishing House.