Wounded Landscapes: Post-Holocaust Drawings, Artists’ Books, and Paintings was on display at the NAU Art Museum from March 11 to April 26, 2014. This exhibition truly embodied the cultural, political, social, and personal consequences that affected survivors of the Holocaust and their children, the second-generation. The work of each artist explored questions that linger in the lives of Jewish people and other social groups who witnessed this tragedy and its aftermath – while presenting each individual’s perspective on how to deal with the grief and anger of this tragic history.
Arie Galles’ charcoal drawings not only exemplify his technical abilities, but also bring out the importance of the larger historical consequences of the Holocaust. He based his drawings on aerial photographs of Nazi concentration camps taken by military surveillance at the time, and it shows them still in operation. Even though his drawings are entirely black and white, ashes and scars on the landscapes can be identified by viewers form a distance. During his talk, Arie explained how these drawings are a way to try to understand the experiences of his people and learn how to cope with its memory. He made it clear that his work also helped him to distance himself from the immediate impact of this history in order to keep emotionally stable. His family had fled Poland during the Nazi occupation and survived, but they all remained deeply affected by the losses.
Karen Baldner’s work explores the same themes but in a different manner. Her work is largely done with handmade paper, hair, and bookmaking techniques. She approaches this subject matter as scars that are both personal and cultural and that transcend any national boundaries. Karen’s choice of materials resemble and evoke human skin, conveying a sense of wounding but also of healing over time. Her use of hair woven into the fabric of paperwork can create a sense of revolt in the viewer, especially since hair is usually thought of as a cultural form of beauty. Karen uses her work to create dialogue on how the Holocaust still affects people today. This is true for survivors and their descendants, but also for other people. “Wounded Landscapes” reminds us that the pain of traumatic histories can linger on for long after violent events occurred.
Amazingly, the artists Arie and Karen did not meet in person until the day of the reception at NAU. The NAU Art Museum and the Martin-Springer Institute presented their works in such a way that they entered into a conversation with each other. The accompanying interviews, lectures, and collaboration between the museum, the artists, and the Martin-Springer Institute made this project a remarkable contribution to post-Holocaust art and history, while signaling some hope for the future.