[Potloodcast] Potloodcast 19: Emilie Sitzia

Potloodcast 19: Emilie Sitzia

In this episode of the Potloodcast, Prof. Dr. Emilie Sitzia tells the story about her fascination for the synergy between word and image. Since 2017, she holds the Special Chair of Illustration at the University of Amsterdam, established by the Fiep Westendorp Foundation. Emilie is co-curator of the current exhibition ‘Trailblazers: 20th century illustrators and activism’. Using five previously selected images, she guides us through illustrations that have special meaning to her.

1. An impactful image from your youth  

The image I chose is an illustration by Gustav Doré for one of Charles Perrault’s fairy tales. It is quite a concerning image if you don’t know what you’re looking at. You can see an animalistic oger-like figure in the right-corner, hovering over 5 young girls in a bed covered with leftover chicken. The figure is holding a giant knife, almost slitting the girl’s throat. It is actually a classic tale, Tom Thumb, but most people wouldn’t recognize Tom Thumb when they look at this image. I came across this book in a library and I was stunned. I went to look for fairy tales, and when I came across this, I had no idea what I was looking at. I had to reread the tale to understand. I felt like the image revealed a secret, it told me something that I hadn’t known before.

Image 1: Gustav Doré’s illustration for Charles Perrault

2. An image that has put me on track 

I chose two illustrations of Goethe’s Faust by Seibertz (1853) and Johannot (1847). When I was a master student, I went to the library to search for a topic in art history. I was looking at different types of stories and tried to find something that would be interesting for me to look at from a socio-historical perspective. I was always interested in how context shapes the way we perceive things. I came across the illustration of Faust by Seibertz, as seen on the left. Here you have a Faust that is very Germanic, strong, broad shouldered, standing very powerful. This representation is not at all how I remember it myself, so I was going back to how I remembered the French representation where Faust, as you can see in Johannot’s illustration on the right, is a skinny, tortured, emotional character that isn’t sure what to do in life. This contrast was very interesting for me, the idea for my master thesis was to take these two contrasting images and try to understand why two different contexts led to two completely different representations of Faust.

Image 2a: Faust by Engelbert Seibertz
Image 2b: Faust by Tony Johannot

3. An image I carry with me for comfort 

One of the images I chose is this illustration of a tree, part of a book called Arbes et arbustes en campagne. It’s not exactly a book that you keep on the coffee table, as it’s about how to build walls and roads by analyzing root systems. Not quite the book for artistic admiration, but I just find the illustration so beautiful. 

The other image is by Tove Jansson, Tove had this little character called ‘Moomin’ and built a whole world around it. The story tried to address values of social help and connection between people. This image is a scene in the rain, and I find this scene so magical, because with just three lines she makes the rain appear.

Image 3a: Illustration by David Dellas for the cover of Arbres et arbustes en campagne

4. An image that made you think

One of the images I chose is by Julie Deporte. Not many people know her, I also had no idea who she was at first. I was very intrigued by the title. It doesn’t really mean anything in French. The title is ‘Moi aussi je voulais l’emoporter’, or in English ‘me too I wanted to take it’, it is a weird title. In French, we have a grammatical rule that the masculine always takes over the feminine. She actually turned this into a way of exploring what it means to be a female illustrator, or a woman, in this world. I think she actually put words and images on things that have annoyed me for so long. For me it was really like finding a friend. It was a book that got me thinking about women and the significance of female illustrators, the importance of visibility and being explicit to change what we don’t like. For me this book was a trigger for the Trailblazers project, to look for those women that have something to say and want to say it loudly. Who are using illustration as a tool to convey to the greater number.

Image 4: Illustration by Julie Delporte
Image 5: Illustration by Judith Kerr for the cover of her book When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit

5. An image that is relevant 

This image is by Judith Kerr, from the book When Hitler Stole My Pink Rabbit. Judith Kerr wrote this trilogy that actually traces her childhood. She was born in Berlin and she had to leave the city when she was 9 years old because her father was a vocal anti-nazi. She had the childhood of a refugee. I find this image very interesting, as it is an image that is made in the 1970s, when a completely different wave of refugees was happening in that period. She made those images because they are relevant, because she could see the link between her childhood as a refugee and to what was happening in the 70s.