Singer, Yvonne

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SINGER, YVONNE (1944– ), Canadian artist. Singer was born in Budapest, when Hungary's Jews were most threatened and subject to extermination. Her father worked with Raoul *Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat who rescued many Hungarian Jews, and as hospitals were closed to Jews, Yvonne was born in Wallenberg's flat, with Wallenberg as her godfather. After brief sojourns in postwar Holland and Switzerland, the family settled in Montreal in 1950. Scarred by the Holocaust, the family, like many other survivor-immigrants, left their Jewishness behind. Singer was unaware of her Jewish identity until an adult. Small wonder Yvonne Singer's art bespeaks recurrent themes of identity, subjectivity, gender and the body, history and memory.

With a B.A. in English and French literature from McGill University, the artist studied at the Ontario College of Art and received an M.F.A. with honors from York University, where she became associate professor of visual arts.

Singer works in sculpture, mixed media installation, and video art. Drawing on childhood experience and family life, her art explores immigrant uncertainties, the negotiations of intimacy, and the ineradicable anxieties of the Holocaust. The Veiled Room (1998) drapes the gallery with gauzy veils, one layer printed with texts from Sigmund Freud and the other with the names of influential German philosophers, politicians, writers, and artists. The fabric panels complicate the interior space, making a labyrinth of semi-translucent passages, and rendering the assertions of the printed texts vaporous and uncertain. In the video installation The Trouble with Translation (2004), two confronted monitors play off the languages and demeanors of family members. Mother, husband, and daughter tell their stories in regal Hungarian, sputtering and explosive Yiddish, and gracefully performed sign language. Each figure seems to counter the others with varying degrees of warmth, elegance, humor, and hauteur.

Singer's later works – bronze castings of the artist's hands and feet – turn to traditional sculpture media. Each piece captures the minutiae of skin, bone, and sinew in its surface, and in doing so conveys the tensions underlying ordinary poses and gestures. At the same time, the works offer much wider allusions, for they evoke fragments of ancient sculpture – the pinnacles of a classical past – as well as the broken bodies and dark history of Jewish catastrophe.

[Carol Zemel (2nd ed.)]