When Linda Dubin Garfield and Elsa Wachs were thinking of where to display “Remembering the Past, Confronting the Future,” their collection of Holocaust art, they didn’t want it to be at a Jewish venue.
They have displayed their art several times at Gratz College Holocaust symposiums but decided they wanted to showcase their mixed-media work somewhere new.
So, from Jan. 11 to Feb. 25, you can see their work hung up in the Fireside Room at Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon. They will hold an artists’ reception on Jan. 29 at 1 p.m.
“I’m happy [the church] wants it to be there and that this is an important topic for them as well,” said Garfield, a Philadelphia-based artist who also founded ARTsisters, a group of professional female artists who empower each other and their community through art.
“We really have to pay attention to terrible things that happen to any group, not just to our own group,” she added, “and we wanted to expand our viewers so that it included more non-Jewish people … It’s not a Jewish issue, it’s a world issue, it’s a humanity issue and when you have it in a Jewish place, it might feel more just our problem when it really isn’t.”
There will be 36 pieces total, with Garfield and Wachs each contributing 18 pieces — a significant number in the Jewish tradition.
Garfield, who works primarily with paper and mixed media, narrowed down the pieces from three different series she’s done, one of which was inspired by a trip she took to Eastern Europe in 2007, which had a lasting effect.
“I went to Vienna, Prague and Budapest for a trip, and I just was very aware of the Holocaust and the survivors; I felt like they were walking on the streets,” she said. “I’d never been to a place that had really been so involved in the Holocaust. I mean Vienna, I couldn’t wait to get out of there, to tell you the truth. It was very in-your-face, to me, and when I came back I said I have to do something and make something and talk about it and just have people become aware of it.”
Using her own photographs as well as historical images from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, Garfield created a layered 21-work series called “Behind the Scene/Seen.” Ten of the series’ pieces are in the current exhibit.
To round out her contributions to “Remembering the Past,” she chose four works from two other series.
For her, collaborating with Wachs and creating art based around Holocaust themes is a way to spark conversation and connection.
“We felt that the survivors are dying off and there’s soon going to be nobody left,” Garfield said. “There’s deniers of the Holocaust — if you saw the movie Denial or read the book, people who say it just didn’t happen. So it’s important to keep it in the public eye and to make sure that people are thinking about it and talking about it, and we both are artists so we respond in a visual way. This is our way of saying, ‘Listen, this is important.’”
She’s looking forward to sharing their work in a church for the first time and invite discussion with a fresh audience.
“How we’re presenting it and how we’re going to put it together, all these things will be unique and fresh to the location where we are,” she said. “Our focus when we present and talk is how we can learn from the past and make sure that we’re ready for the future, how do we make sure that nothing like this ever happens again to any group, not just Jews.”
Wachs is similarly looking forward to displaying their work at the church.
“The subject of the Holocaust is not limited to a narrow slice of 20th-century history,” she wrote in an email. “The lessons of the Holocaust provides us with universal instructions, cautionary tales and wake-up calls.”
Wachs began her artistic career as a painter and later moved into working with fabrics and textures. Garfield noted that as she and Wachs work with different materials this show will be “a good blend visually” as every piece looks so different.
“In recent years,” Wachs wrote, “my work has been dimensional, textural and infused with text as reflected in ‘Remembering/Confronting.’ Shadowed memories is a pervasive motif with these shows on the Holocaust. After experimenting with techniques, the method of chemical transfer, a process to affix text and images to my substrate, best tells the story of clouded and veiled thoughts and voices of the past.”
Wachs grew up in Philadelphia, far from the events of the Holocaust, but the stories and lessons have stuck with her through today.
“These works are visceral links to the Holocaust, an ocean away, two generations removed and 70-plus years later,” she wrote. “My intention is not to speak for those lost in the Holocaust or affected by it, but rather, through my art I want to give them a voice, to allow them to say, ‘We walked this earth and we made a difference.’ And, importantly, by shining a spotlight, help make the world a better place.”
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