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Memorial Foundation Board Briefings - Recent News April 2004

April 1, 2004

Ziva Amishai-Maisels: Thirty-Fourth Recipient of Foundation Support To Receive Israel Prize

Ziva Amishai-Maisels, Professor of Art History at Hebrew University, is the thirty-fourth recipient of Memorial Foundation support to receive the Israel Prize. The ceremony will take place on April 27th, Israel Independence Day, in Jerusalem. Prof. Amishai-Maisels will be the third individual to be honored for her contributions to the field of Art History since the inception of the Israel Prize, one of the most distinguished in Jewish life.

Foundation recipients who previously received the Israel Prize include such noted scholars as Professors, Menachem Elon, Gershon Shaked, Haim Beinart, Chaim Dimitrovsky, Eliezer Schweid, Moshe Bar-Asher, Joseph Dan, Adin Steinsaltz, Yehuda Bauer, Aviezer Ravitzky and Nahum Rakover.

One of Prof. Amishai-Maisels' major works is "Depiction and Interpretation: The Influence of the Holocaust on the Visual Arts." to which she devoted more than 20 years of research and which involved, in her words, "much soul searching and soul steeling." The Foundation awarded her three grants in 1974-75, 1982-83, and 1991-92 to assist her in her pioneering research in this field. Her volume was one of the first serious investigations of the subject, and was instantly successful in opening up this area as a new field of research.

A major problem faced by artists of the Holocaust, according to Prof. Amishai-Maisels, is the concept of evil. Prof. Amishai-Maisels deals with how artists groped with ways to portray the Nazis in a manner that would convey the depth of their depravity. The problem confronting these artists was whether to depict this evil as an anomaly - as in the works of Janco, Lasansky, Baskin and Wiesenthal - or to see it as part of the evil inherent in mankind, as in the works of Francis Bacon and the Cobra artists.

Another way of dealing with the whole subject was to flee from representation into abstraction, a way followed by many of the Jewish artists of the New York School, and by survivors such as Arikha and Bak. Some coped by stressing their Jewish identity, and/or trying to revive the shtetl, at least on canvas.

Prof. Amishai-Maisels also deals with the need of the artists to symbolize the Holocaust in an attempt to make sense of it. Many artists derived Holocaust symbols from the Holocaust experience itself - e.g., the barbed wire and crematorium smokestacks. Others turned to the Old Testament for inspiration. There were some, including Jewish artists, who symbolized the Holocaust through the portrayal of the crucifixion of the Jewish Jesus, a symbolism that crossed religious lines, and was extremely popular in the 1930s and 1940s.

Prof. Amishai-Maisels also analyzed the different ways artists in the camps depicted the Holocaust compared to those who had not been there; the depiction of refugees, and the way in which those who were themselves refugees, like Chagall and Lipchitz, incorporated their experiences into their works; and the difference between the way Jewish and non-Jewish artists worked on this subject.

What emerges from this monumental volume is that the Holocaust has become a significant part of the language of discourse in modern art. Yet, artists, Jewish and non-Jewish, have not fully exhausted this theme.

Prof. Amishai-Maisels' work has not been confined solely to the Holocaust. She has also published important works on Chagall, Steinhardt and Gaugin, to whom she was attracted because they were caught between two or more cultures, or had left one land for another (as she herself has done as an immigrant from the U.S. to Israel). She has also studied the problem of multiple cultures in relation to modern Jewish art in the works of Ben Shahn in the U.S.; Ardon, Bezem, and Pins in Israel; and in Russian Jewish artists, both in the revolutionary period and in recent decades.

Aside from her extensive scholarly work and teaching in Israel, the U.S., and Europe, Prof. Amishai-Maisels has always generously shared her knowledge and expertise in a variety of civic and communal endeavors. In the Yom Kippur War, she lectured, sometimes four to five times a day, to soldiers at the front. At the beginning of the Russian immigration to Israel, she was active in helping Russian scholars and students to obtain jobs and scholarships.

For almost three decades, she has been serving the Memorial Foundation on our various scholarly panels, always cooperating in whatever endeavor in which we requested her participation. We remember fondly her excellent lectures on modern Jewish art at the first Nahum Goldmann Fellowship we organized right after Glasnost in the former Soviet Union in 1991.

We take great pride at the singular honor bestowed upon Prof. Amishai-Maisels by the State of Israel, and tip our kipot to her for her valued contributions to Jewish art and culture.

 

Frederic Brenner

The second individual from the arts that I would like to highlight in this report is Frederic Brenner, an internationally recognized photographer, whose work over the last 25 years has documented the lives of Jews in more than 40 countries on 6 continents. The Foundation has assisted him in his work from the very beginning of his career, and in more modest ways when it approached its zenith during the last two to three years.

Frederic Brenner's latest book, Diaspora: Homeland in Exile, is his most important work. This two-volume work of photographs and commentary was issued in conjunction with a major exhibit of Frederic's work at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. The exhibit, The Jewish Journey: Frederic Brenner's Photographic Odyssey - A Portrait of Jewish Diversity, which was held in New York City last winter, is also his most important exhibit to date, and will undoubtedly enhance his already well-established reputation as a world-class photographer.

I first met Frederic Brenner when he was a fellow at the Foundation's second Nahum Goldmann Fellowship program, which took place in 1989 at Carmel College, Oxfordshire, England. Frederic, who grew up in France and was trained as a social anthropologist, had already been photographing Jewish communities for a number of years. At that fellowship we devoted one evening to a showing of his early photographs with a running and, even then, an accompanying compelling narrative by Frederic. This, one of his first shows as a professional photographer, was a great hit and a harbinger of his future career. In 2001, by this time internationally known, Frederic gave another marvelous slideshow of selections of his work at an Academic Convocation organized by the Foundation in New York on The Jewish People in the Twentieth Century.

Frederic received two fellowship grants in 1989 and 1991 from the Memorial Foundation for his first publications based on his photographic work of the Jews in Yemen and the former Soviet Union, and for his photographic essay, Diaspora: Chronicle of a People. He also received a fellowship in 2001 for his latest book.

Frederic has had earlier exhibits at the Beth Hatefusoth, the International Center for Photography in New York and the Musee de L'Elysee in Lausanne. He also exhibited in Paris, Mexico, Amsterdam and Buenos Aires. He was the winner of the 1992 Pris de Rome. His earlier publications include Jerusalem: Instants d'Eternite, Marranes, Jews/America/A Representation and Exile at Home.

Frederic Brenner's work has evolved over the years. His first work was photographing iconical Jewish subjects. He then began documenting disappearing Jewish communities in remote areas of the world, driven by a sense of the imminent loss of these communities, that thousands of years of Jewish history were about to vanish. In 1992, he shifted again, away from ethnographic documentary, to portraying the multiple dimensions of Jewish identity in the Diaspora. In this latest phase, he moves away from his candid photos to posing his subjects, composing his photographs in his mind's eye before snapping the shutter.

Brenner asserts that his work has achieved a number of laudable goals. Firstly, it rehabilitates many of the Jewish groups who live on the margin of memory. Jewish history in the twentieth century, he claims, has been written mostly by white western Ashkenazim. In his work, he breaks the stereotyped representations of what is a Jew and what a Jew looks like.

Secondly, he emphasizes that in our era Jews and non-Jews too often focus on how Jews died. His work focuses instead on how Jews live.

Finally, Brenner contends that his photos are not nostalgic, but images to break images, to underline the discontinuity, dispossession and dispersal of Jews in the Diaspora.

rom our perspective, Brenner's oeuvre of more than 80,000 images, that make up the most extensive photographic inventory of Jewish life around the world, marvelously captures the rich diversity - geographic, cultural and communal - of the Jewish experience in Diaspora. While his photographs are contemporary, they consciously reflect the full spectrum of Jews in time and space, from pre-modern to post-modern. His photographs acknowledge and enable us to understand the multiple threads from which Klal Yisrael is woven, and to listen to the multiple voices that speak within us, even when discordant.

The Memorial Foundation, which expends its considerable energy and resources on nourishing the concept of Klal Yisrael in its multiple programs around the world, is fully empathetic with this marvelous portraiture of the Jewish people created by Brenner. We are proud of Frederic's success and the modest role we played in the development of the man and his work.

Best wishes to you and your family for a joyous Passover.

Warm regards.
Sincerely yours,

Dr. Jerry Hochbaum
Executive Vice President