Gallery and Video: ‘Silent Witnesses’ Speak Up in Detroit

11 Mar
Julian Voloj, Detroit Revisited, 5×7″, archival digital print.

Jewish history is full of migration stories, from the Exodus of Egypt to the many diasporas that have spread Jewish people around the world. There is much documented on the large and more popular migrations, but the exhibition Silent Witnesses: Synagogues Transformed, Rebuilt or Abandoned currently on view at the Holocaust Memorial Center in Detroit, explores migration stories of Jewish synagogue communities in areas not as well known, and is bringing relevancy to these unrecognized collective heritages.

Presented by the Cultural Heritage Artists Project,  the Jewish Art Salon, and JWalks, this exhibition features paintings, photographs, mixed media installations, and video work all being displayed for the first time with most of the artwork having been created specifically for this exhibition.

Organizer and featured artist Cynthia Beth Rubin played a significant role in introducing a unique artist lead approach to the exhibition production and process. Having previously organized exhibitions for the Cultural Heritage Artists Project, Rubin employed a model based on cooperative work  by artists around a shared theme allowing the exhibition to be lead by the theme rather than preexisting artwork.

Artists participating in the exhibition were also able to share their works in progress with their fellow exhibiting artists through a private website and get feedback on their work in development. Rubin details how artists have always shared work in development with other artists. “Thirty years ago, we shared studio space.  Today, we can supplement that sharing with the internet. What emerged—and what we hope will continue to develop for the next time—is a shared sense of invention.”

This model for artist lead exhibitions is to encourage artistic dialogue that is conducive to creating new works of art with meaning and with new aesthetic explorations. Rubin compliments partnering organization the Jewish Art Salon as a way for Jewish artists to meet one another “at all levels of Jewishness” to talk about how it effects their artwork. The Jewish Art Salon has been leading in artist lead exhibitions and initiatives includes the Dura Europos Project, as well as their monthly meetings and events.

“What emerged—and what we hope will continue to develop for the next time—is a shared sense of invention.”

Silent Witnesses was organized to coincide with Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) conference being held in Detroit this year. The exhibition not only adds an art festival element to the conference, but shows conference attendees what happens when artists are given the power to curate their own exhibitions.

Core to the exhibition was the motivation to engage topics, share insights, and illuminate others to how historical changes in the Jewish communities were experienced and continue to effect our lives today. Viewers are encouraged to read the labels accompanying the artwork on view to get a fuller idea of the context for the artwork. In this way the story is more accessible than in other galleries where a gallery attendant is necessary to explain the context for the artwork.

Rubin would like people to respond to the show as a way of sparking their interest in the history. “In the same way when you go see a movie of a period, and you want to find out more. Like Marie Antoinette, you know it is interpretive, the movie is not 100% reality, but it is an invitation to learn and explore.”

For more information on Silent Witnesses visit the official website and view exhibiting works including the video and in the slideshow below.

Gateway to the West from Saul Sudin on Vimeo.

Participating Artists: Mel Alexenberg | Rachel Kanter | Linda Soberman | Ellen Alt | Stacy Leeman | Miriam Stern | Aileen Bassis | Martin Mendelsberg | Saul Sudin |Miriam Benjamin | Jacob Mezrahi | Julian Voloj | Siona Benjamin| Joan Roth | Yona Verwer | Edith C. Dreikurs | Cynthia Beth Rubin | Ahron Weiner | Camille Eskell | Ben Schachter |Todd Weinstein | James Stone Goodman | Susan Shender

The exhibition will continue until April 13, 2012 at The Holocaust Memorial Center, Zekelman Family Campus
Farmington Hills, Metro Detroit, Michigan.

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