The Latest from Art Not Hate
The Warsaw Ghetto remembered through art, poetry, and scholarly essays.
The Warsaw Ghetto remembered through art, poetry, and scholarly essays.
With the passing of more and more elderly direct survivors we who are spiritual survivors of the Shoah must assume greater-than-ever responsibility for the character and impact of the Holocaust Narrative we pass along. For nearly 70 years since the war’s end we have emphasized the Nazi Story, one of unforgivable Horror. At great cost to our grasp of history and our self-esteem we have minimized attention to the Jewish Story, that of the remarkable effort of victims to help one another despite fierce Nazi opposition to any evidence of the humanity of “sub-humans.” It is time to rebalance attention, and renew Holocaust education and memorialization content; we owe this to the 6 million, to our progeny to our religious faith, and to posterity. – Art Shostak (Bio)
Summary by Theresa Willingham
In his essay “The Future of Holocaust Memorialization: Altruism in Extremes” (Philadelphia Jewish Voice, April 2011), Dr. Arthur Shostak, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Drexel University, calls for a new, more powerful and sustaining way to frame the Holocaust story, one that puts a higher emphasis on the strength of character and spirit that guided the Jewish people through the atrocities of the time.
Dr. Shostak’s work focuses on “Stealth Altruism,” also the title of his upcoming book, which looks at the myriad ways that concentration camp prisoners and others defied the inhumanity thrust upon them in countless subtle but powerful ways. He cites examples of people shielding one another from capture, at risk to their own lives; of teens in Terezin who, despite sure death sentences, created a literary magazine that focused on everything but life in the concentration camp; adults who created an informal university with over 500 lecturers (of whom less than 200 survived) and more than 2400 “courses.”
These instances of human perseverance and strength of character under the most inhumane of conditions, Dr. Shostak believes, create a far greater and more enduring story on which to build and sustain a religious and cultural future. Without refocusing the Jewish collective memory on a more positive and uplifting story of the Holocaust, Dr. Shostak believes the Jewish community is in danger of what Harvard Professor Ruth Wisse calls “substituting a cult of martyrdom for the Torah's insistence on life.”
Dr. Shostak believes Rachel Korazim, director of Education at Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial museum, sums the problem up well when she says, “We’ve managed to place images like barbed wire and crematoria as central Jewish images. This is not Jewish history, this is Nazi history.”
“In the very near future the last of the direct survivors (and perpetrators) of the 1933-1946 Holocaust will pass away,” Dr. Shostak writes. “In the aftermath we will inherit responsibility for shaping a fresh telling of the greatest crime of the 20th century, a persuasive re-telling that should lend a special meaning to 21st century life. We could break with memorialization tradition and adopt a new approach, one that emphasizes not the Horror of Nazi insanity, but instead the Help that victims shared with one another. Were we to do so Jews here and elsewhere would finally understand how very much we have to be proud of in the record of our co-religionists in extremis.”
Art speaks to us of spirit. This is a major theme of Bob Barancik’s Art Not Hate, a multimedia exhibit at the Carrollwood Cultural Center in November and December, 2010. In the photo, Adrienne Hutelmyer and Paul Berg, Executive Director, examine a portrait of Raoul Wallenberg from the exhibit.
Some individuals, like Wallenberg, live forever as examples of the greatness of the human spirit. Wallenberg was a Swedish architect and businessman, recruited in 1944 for a rescue mission to help the Hungarian Jews. He was given a minor diplomatic post in Budapest, and used it to pass out fake passports—even to people already in detention—and provide refuge in buildings that he declared to be Swedish property. He saved the lives of about 15,000 people.
Wallenberg’s own fate remains a mystery. He was detained by the Russians in 1945 and is believed to have died in Lubyanka prison in 1947.
The figures in Barancik’s paintings are stripped down to their essence—they are glowing energy fields, standing against a background of darkness and chaos. These works amplify the difference between life and an environment that seeks to deny it. Mary Ellen Bitner (left) and Evelyn Bless examine two of these spirit works, each depicting three figures that draw strength from each other against the emptiness around them.
We all need examples of how to live life with integrity. In the photo, artist Bob Barancik and Mary Ellen Bitner, Art Curator, look at two portraits of people who spoke out about the human condition: Jan Karski and Andrei Sakharov.
Jan Karski, a Polish Catholic, was a resistance leader who entered the Jewish ghettos to observe first-hand what was taking place. In 1942, he was the first person to report to the Polish, British and U.S. governments on the slaughter of Jews in Poland. He continued to urge heads of state to act; at the time, no one would listen to him.
Andrei Sakharov, known as the father of the Russian atomic bomb, became a spokesperson for human rights and against development of atomic weapons. Despite official Soviet opposition, Sakharov spoke out about the dangers of totalitarianism. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
Iconoclastic artists and intellectuals often have their ears to the ground, nostrils sniffing the wind, and eyes scanning the horizon…or sidewalk for pennies.
It is often an uncomfortable lifestyle. But it does serve a useful societal function.
Image-makers in a digital age can readily communicate their unease, anxieties, speculations to a global audience through the internet. It is a truism that highly creative people often view the world through childlike eyes and are prone to state the obvious.
In the classic childhood fable “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it was a little boy (not the prosperous and serious courtiers) who yelled “the emperor is naked!” Perhaps truth telling is connected to arrested social development and not knowing when to shut up.
Nearly four years ago, I was at a wonderful concert at the Palladium Theater in St. Pete featuring pianist Paul Wilborn and his sizzling songstress. Their rendition of “You Give Me Fever” just about burnt the house down.
It certainly got me to thinking about sex…and the burning of fossil fuels…and perhaps doing a slightly titillating video on the subject of global warming.
The legal complications and expenses of trying to use Peggy Lee’s hit standard of “Fever” put it out of bounds for an indie artist/producer like myself. It was easier and a lot more fun to hire my longtime music mavens Phyllis Chapell and Dan Kleiman in Philly to make some new music. I chose a hot Latin sound and name (Mundo Caliente: It’s a Hot World!) for the project.
In the print series, I never liked nine of the images and refrained from exhibiting them. They made me genuinely uncomfortable. There was a hellish quality to them.
Likewise, there is a hellish quality to our national addiction to Gulf of Mexico deepwater rigs and despotic Middle East oil. The out-of-control spills and fires, resource wars, episodes of epic corporate and governmental incompetence, and the global reality of smog-choked cities together create a devilishly depressing vision.
I look at the images at the side of this blog and am genuinely surprised what my unconscious mind painted years ago. These images are evocative warnings of today’s predicament.
As the great cartoonist, Walt Kelly, said through his alter-ego Pogo character over 40 years ago:
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Below are links to key articles and imagery about the BP gusher-oil slick:
Top Florida Marine Biologist does Q&A
Is Climate Change Worth Tackling? A Reply To Jim Manzi
Deepwater Explosion and key photo
Jean M. Peck is a writer, editor, and educator who lives in Portland, Maine. She is the author of two books: At the Fire's Center (University of Illinois Press) and, with Abraham Peck, Maine's Jewish Heritage (Arcadia Press). She is an adjunct professor of English at the University of Maine, Augusta.
A way to express what matters to them; a creative solution to real conflict. This is what students at The Hillel School of Tampa found recently in art, not hate.
For the last two months, Fine Art and Judaic Studies middle school students at the Hillel School of Tampa have been working on “social commentary” art — that which encourages its creator to interpret the world he or she lives in, not just portray it. The unit began after middle school students visited the “Art Not Hate” exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum this past March. They were intrigued by the theme of “creative solutions to conflict.” The students were asked to reinterpret the exhibit’s focus on the Holocaust and Post-Holocaust genocides, and apply it to their own 21st-century lives.
When they returned to school, students were asked to think of an issue that was important to them. This is what your art class will center around for the next two months, Hillel art teacher Debra Campbell told her students. One student, Matthew, picked fear. Shelby picked nutrition in America. Yoni picked racism. All of the students worked hard to transcend the surface of their topic, communicating the emotions that lie beneath.
Matthew’s sculpture explores the topic of fear. Fear is an obstacle blocking personal accomplishments. In order for an individual to self-actualize, he says, they have to break through the wall of fear.
“Shelby’s collage is illustrating how America has ignored nutrition and exercise and has become a country of couch potatoes. Kids especially have to be careful not to exist on fast food and junk food. She believes we are creating a society that it is susceptible to disease and ill health.”
– Debra Campbell
“Although it is portrayed here as racism against African Americans, Yoni believes that is only one example. So many races have been discriminated against that it is important to take a stand whenever people attack others because they are not of the same background or race.”
– Debra Campbell
“Forced to Hide by Sydney shows how Blacks and Jews have been demeaned throughout history and forced into hiding. Her collage has a video of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company performing ‘Revelations’ that is superimposed over the art. The dancers are dancing to coded slave songs that told slaves where to hide.” – Debra Campbell
“It was really hard for them to see the difference between graphic art and (fine) art,” said Campbell, “something that will evoke an emotion rather than just tell the audience literally how to view the artwork.”
Campbell let students use whatever materials they wanted — a carry-over from the workshops that inspired the idea.
Campbell had worked with Barancik a few months beforehand at the Art Not Hate workshops at Creative Clay, a St. Petersburg organization providing equal access to art education for disabled citizens. The workshops were designed to teach problem-solving skills to middle- and high-school students by promoting understanding through artistic interaction. Campbell just so happened to be launching her social commentary unit at the time and wasn’t sure how she wanted to approach the topic.
The Art Not Hate workshops jived perfectly with what she was trying to teach, and she decided to get more involved. When she heard about the exhibit at the Florida Holocaust Museum, she knew what she wanted to do.
Using materials they selected themselves, each students’ artwork was made unique to the issue it surrounded and the emotions it expressed. One student, Nicole, made a torch-shaped sculpture she calls “Sacrifice By Fire.” An homage to lives lost in the Holocaust, Campbell says Nicole’s message is that, “If humanity is not vigilant, it can happen again.”
Nicole created this piece as an homage to lives lost in the Holocaust. The burning torch is symbolic of rememberance. If humanity does not remember the consequences of its negligence, we may experience a horror like the Holocaust again.
Talia's piece is a red and black stand against gossip. Words can be used like weapons to injure a person's self-esteem. We have to treat gossip like violence and be conscious non-participants.
Alex constructed a book in sections like the walls of hatred, or the black and white systems of thought that separate people.
Talia’s piece, “Words Can Hurt,” is a red and black stand against gossip. Talia chose to make a collage, which allowed her to use a lot of type in her design including phrases like “Did you hear…?” and “She is so…”
After five months of studying the Holocaust in Judaic Studies class, Amy Wasser’s students came back from the “Art Not Hate” exhibit with a focus on the concept of memory. “As Jewish citizens in contemporary America, we have no memories of the Holocaust,” Wasser says, “because we never experienced it. We know we need to remember what happened, lest we let it happen again, but how can we remember something we never experienced?”
Like Campbell, Wassser asked her students to use art as a medium to express their feelings. Each student chose a different topic of memory and created an original piece of art. One student constructed a wooden table, painted with names of victims and splatters of bright red paint. Tiny figurines scatter across the length of the table toward a rainbow pattern, symbolizing freedom. Another student constructed a tree-like sculpture, tall as an eight-year-old, and hung a poem on the wall beside it. Another made a concrete wall with swastikas on it, reminiscent of the walls of the ghettos that kept his ancestors inside.
Amy Wasser's class chose memory as the topic of their social commentary unit. This student crafted a long table, symbolic of Holocaust victims' long trek toward freedom and humanity's journey toward peace.
This student of Amy Wasser's constructed a tall tree with real wooden branches and placed a poem on the wall beside it. Many of Wasser's students incorporated text into their work.
This Judaic Studies student constructed a ghetto wall out of salvaged wood and desecrated it with swastikas like the ghetto walls that kept his ancestors prisoners.
When they finished their projects, students wanted to test their pieces out in the Rembrandt in Hightops Youth Art Competition, held annually at the Old Hyde Park Gallery in Tampa. They wanted to see if anyone would “get it,” says Campbell — if they had done a good enough job getting below the surface of their topics and still having people viewing it as a work of art.
They had. Out of 15 awards, five of them were given to Hillel students (four of the awards for their social commentary art).
Campbell says she will definitely teach the social commentary unit again in her class, because “using the theme of ‘creative responses to conflict’ enabled the kids to talk about things that were important to them and present them in their own, independent style.
“Rather than teaching techniques and materials,” she says, “this was one time that the kids were able to take everything they learned and turn it into a very personal work of art.”
The fabric of this piece suggests lives weaving together, flexible ways of thinking, or the multi-colored flags of a planet sewn together. Wasser's students chose mediums appropriate to their topics of choice.
These ghostlike figures are lost against a black background, separated by barbed wire and captioned by bright red letters, spelling out their ultimate fate, as if to say, “This is the fear we need to remember.”
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