“History means nothing if we don’t learn from it,” Eva Cutler told a group gathered at the Miami Beach Jewish Community Center for the opening of “Art Mazel”, an exhibit of art created by Holocaust survivors. Cutler and three other artists joined curator Robert Zuckerman to talk about art, survival, and the importance of telling their stories.
Zuckerman, a celebrity photographer who retired from on-set work after a late onset genetic disease confined him to a wheelchair, is now focused on “education, empowerment, and world betterment” using photography and storytelling. He came up with the idea to use a play on the Art Basel theme to create a “Jewish-themed art festival that celebrates the Jewish spirit, celebrates artwork by Holocaust survivors”.
Watch a brief video interview with Robert Zuckerman on how he came up with the idea for the exhibit, where's it going next, and the importance of telling these stories.
Cutler’s spirit was showing strong at the opening. “I don’t want you to feel sorry for me,” she said. “I want you to learn – why it happened, how we avoid it from happening again.” Cutler, who was born in Hungary, cautioned, “It doesn’t happen overnight. Everything is being built up.”
Shushana Caplan’s parents were Polish citizens who fled to Russia while her mother was pregnant. When Caplan was just one month old her family was deported to Siberia. Her parents did not share the details with her until much later. She creates what she calls “dreamscapes to give people an impression of different incidents”. In one of her artworks, she depicts the night her parents were arrested and the train that took them away. (Photo above)
Telling stories through art is important, she said, so that they will always be there even when the survivors no longer are. “I shouldn’t have to be there to tell you a story but in a sense they are memoirs in themselves.”
“We are here. We survived. I want to convey that feeling,” she said. “We are the survivors and we need to pass our stories along … I hope my pictures continue to speak.”
Samuel Marder, a retired professional violinist, shared his story of survival and emotional conflict. He began playing the violin at 6. By age 10 he had won competitions and the Russian government offered him the opportunity to go away to study the violin. His father didn’t want him to go. “[I’m] glad. Glad I got one more year with him. My father died a year later in a concentration camp.”
On the way to the concentration camp, Marder said, “My violin was ripped out of my hands. It was as if my soul was taken away from me.”
“For many years,” he said, “I didn’t hear music.” Food was scarce. He used to have two daydreams, “how to get food and [how] I could just look at a violin”.
And, then a Nazi soldier took an interest in him and gave him violin lessons. “He was the only one who really gave me the real push to go on in music.” When asked how he handled the conflict between his love of the violin and the atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers, Marder said it was a slow process. “In my teenage way, I started to argue with him [about politics]… in a humorous way.”
Later, the soldier came to the U.S. and Marder invited him to stay at his home. “I did not know the things he did until he lived in our home.” Marder had to ask the former soldier to leave but looked him up again later when he was playing a concert in Chicago. “I found out he went out of his mind,” he said.
Absorbed in music, “I did not have to think about what happened to me. I did not want to think about it. I did not want to write about it. I did not want to talk about it.” But, eventually, he published a book and started speaking in schools.
Visual and musical art, he said, is an important part of the storytelling. “It is not enough to express yourself to one medium. Art can express things that no words can express.”
Photographer and curator Zuckerman, a resident of Sunny Isles, came to storytelling over time. While working in Los Angeles he was feeling the impersonal nature of Hollywood when in 1993 he met an HIV positive painter who described her art to him by saying, “The more personal my expression, the more universal its meaning.”
Later, after 9/11, he said “The world was inundated with the specter of terror.” To counter that, he began taking photographs “anywhere in the flow of the life” and wrote a paragraph about his experience with each person he encountered. “The antithesis of terror is the richness of everyday life. It’s all around us.” Those photos and stories became a book titled Kindsight. He continues to take photos of everyday life and adds them to his exhibits. His works now, he said, are “very much driven by what that artist [in LA] said … they’re from my heart”.
Zuckerman’s work can be viewed locally at the Balfour Hotel (350 Ocean Drive) during Art Basel and permanently at The Betsy Hotel (1440 Ocean Drive). His Kindsight photos are on permanent display in the main building of Jackson Memorial Hospital and the FIU Urban Studios (420 Lincoln Road). For more information, www.robertzuckerman.com.
Art Mazel, which also includes work by Ivan Gabor and Ingrid Roskin, will continue through January 26 at the Miami Beach Jewish Community Center, 4221 Pine Tree Drive. Visitors need to present a photo ID. For more information about the JCC and facility hours, check their website or call 305-534-3206.
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