Retrospective Memorial Exhibition

FOFA Gallery, Concordia University, Montreal — 2007

Co-curators: David Elliott, Lynn Hughes, Loren Lerner and Sara Morley

Exhibition Catalogue >>>

An exhibition catalogue and logotype was created by Sara Morley to commemorate Katja’s life and artwork.

366 Days >>>

The retrospective premiered 366 Days, Katja’s final series — one painting a day for a full year.

Oh Mother! >>>

Katja MacLeod Kessin is featured in this documentary by Sandra Dametto and Sara Morley that takes a strikingly intimate look at the lives of three generations of mothers.

Katja MacLeod Kessin, PhD
February 7, 1959 – April 1, 2006

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Katja MacLeod Kessin emigrated to Montreal in 1981. She was an active member of the Concordia community since beginning studies in Fine Arts in 1985. Katja went on to graduate with a BFA and MFA in painting, and in 2003 was awarded a Ph.D. in the Humanities Program, combining studies in Art History, Studio Arts and German Studies. Katja’s research project, To Lend the Dead a Voice, focused on second generation German artists, the descendants of Jewish and gentile Germans of the Third Reich. Over the years she developed a detailed iconography which drew on her childhood experiences in Germany and explored the socially accepted forms of violence, the hidden dangers and often-false comforts of traditional family life. Katja’s work examined the connections between the home environment and large-scale acts of violence as exemplified by Hitler’s Third Reich and the resulting Holocaust.

Katja taught painting and drawing in a variety of settings. Beginning by teaching groups of women in her studio, she went on to develop an art program for women and children at a local women’s shelter that resulted in the creation of a series of workshops, Awareness through Art, derived from her own art practice and aimed at activating the residents’ creative healing capacities. Katja introduced the women to the language of visual expression as a means of self-therapy. She co-facilitated Flight, a project that resulted in a collaborative exhibition at the Maison de la Culture in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, Montreal.

The quality of Katja’s academic work and her contribution to the life of the community around her were recognized in 2000 in a national award of merit given by the Senior Women Academic Administrators of Canada. Katja also taught at Concordia University and designed a course to introduce Fine Arts to non-Fine Arts students. The dedication and enthusiasm that she brought to the course received glowing student reviews.

Katja, mother of three grown children, developed an art practice that was inspired by her daily life. She produced nine solo exhibitions, participated in numerous group exhibitions, publicly presented a series of performances and was involved as the curator of various exhibitions. Leo Haas — Survival and Rebirth, a project commemorating the 50th anniversary of the closing of Nazi concentration camps in Europe, was sponsored by the Montreal Memorial Holocaust Centre and toured North America for one year, including Parliament Hill and Washington’s Holocaust Centre.

Katja’s art is extraordinarily powerful. As her unique creative voice evolved over the last twenty years it became clear and uncompromising while remaining deeply poetic. Her work has been widely exhibited in Canada as well as in Germany: in 1996 the painting installation Still Alives was exhibited in the city hall of her German hometown; 1998 brought her to Lübeck, Germany as artist in residence in the GEDOK studio (German and Austrian organization of women artists), where she performed and exhibited her painting installation Aryan Household — an exploration of racial stereotypes in the Germany of her early childhood. Her painting installation Grim Reaper focused on the issue of childhood trauma and was exhibited in Germany in 2000. In 2001, Katja captured her life over the course of the year in a visual diary that comprised a painting per week. The result of this labour, 2001 Earth Odyssey, was exhibited at the Maison de la Culture in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and the Visual Arts Centre, Westmount. Katja’s last major work, 366 Days, involved creating one painting a day for a year.

Katja Macleod Kessin died on April 1, 2006 after a long illness.

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