Tamara Bekier and processing the past with paint

Tamara Bekier is 92 years of age. She has spent the second half of her life producing paintings that give a voice to the silencing and trauma she experienced as a refugee during World War II. Bekier’s exhibition, Between Worlds at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, is a survey of her life’s work, a reflection on her journey from Russia to Ballarat, through Germany. “My work explores the concept of dreamscapes that are suspended in two parallel worlds: my past and my present,” she reflects.

Bekier came to painting late—well into her forties. After settling in Ballarat she studied art, and painting quickly became her refuge. She recalls, “The discovery of art became my daily solace, a means to cope with the pain inflicted by the injustices of war.” Compelled to paint ever since, she is vehement: “I am going to do art as long as I can breathe.” Paintings continue to burst from Bekier: Between Worlds includes 205 mixed-media works made between 1985 to 2023, an incredible output. In her dream like paintings, “You’ll find silent figures living in surreal and unfamiliar landscapes, reflecting the unspoken pain they carry with them.” Ethereal beings seem to rise from or retreat into decorative patterns and swirling colours. Faces peer out, then melt away again, perhaps they don’t want to be seen.

Tamara Bekier, Shifting threads, 2006. Synthetic polymer paint, ink and thread on rice paper. © Tamara Bekier.

Still haunted by her past, Bekier is deeply affected by ongoing global tensions, particularly in Ukraine, her birthplace. Her paintings are both a solace and “a testament to resilience, hope and overcoming adversity”. In Between Worlds, Bekier hopes audiences “will feel a deep connection, recognising the shared thread of humanity that unites us across time and culture”

Between Worlds
Tamara Bekier
Art Gallery of Ballarat
On now—28 January

This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 print edition of Art Guide Australia.

Preview Words by Anita King