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David Feinberg and Murray Brandys

U professor David Feinberg (left) with Holocaust survivor and "Voice to Vision" participant Murray Brandys.

From the recesses of their minds

Nash Gallery exhibit captures the experiences of genocide survivors; runs through October 2

By Pauline Oo

September 17, 2008

You don't have to understand it. You have to feel it.

That, in a nutshell, is David Feinberg's advice to those visiting the current "Voice to Vision" exhibit at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. The associate professor of art at the University of Minnesota is the man behind the ongoing project that helps Holocaust and genocide survivors share experiences from the past through art.

The exhibit features nearly 30 pieces of large, mixed media art, created with the help of Feinberg and a team of University students and local artists.

Feinberg's desire to combine history and art took root in the late 1990s, when he created two digital collages using World War II imagery. That undertaking yielded the kernels of "Voice to Vision." In 2002 he approached the late Stephen Feinstein, director of the U's Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), with his idea of working with people who had lived through racial extermination or mass murder.

"He came over to my studio and looked at my work," recalls Feinberg. (Both of his WWII pieces are part of the "Voice to Vision" exhibit.) "He thought it was a great idea because he was into art as a way of recording history."

Feinstein offered his help in finding some participants, people who had already told their tales of survival. But Feinberg wanted a different group of people.

"The idea of a memory project is to get people to recall who hadn't recalled," he says. "I didn't realize how difficult it would be to find these volunteers. The survivors who haven't spoken, especially the Holocaust survivors, for over 60 years, weren't about to speak now. The ones who were willing to speak [had] already spoken."

It took Feinberg a year and a half to convince two Holocaust survivors to be the first to sign up: friends Murray Brandys and Joe Grosnacht, whom he had met by chance at a gym in the Twin Cities.

Since then, the pool of willing participants has grown. They include refugees from the conflicts in Darfur, Rwanda, Laos, and Tibet.

Feinberg and his team of collaborators--who also include composers, musicians, singers, and poets--met with the survivors every other month for about two to three hours over a period of about 18 months for the present exhibit.

Film and panel events
All events are free and held at the In-Flux space adjacent to the Nash Gallery.

Tuesday, Sept. 16, 7-9 p.m.
"Voice to Vision I: Holocaust Survivors Share Experiences Through Art," with Holocaust survivors Murray Brandys and Joe Grosnecht.

Saturday, Sept. 20, 2-4:30 p.m.
"Voice to Vision III: Romania 1941/Rwanda 1994," with Rwandan survivors Floriane Robins Brown and Alice Tuza, composer David Harris, artist Caroline Kent.

Tuesday, Sept. 23, 7-9 p.m.
"Voice to Vision II: If Nothing Else They'll Hear My Beating Heart," with Holocaust survivors Lucy Smith and Sabina Zimering, composer Midge McCloy.

Saturday, September 27, 2-4:30 p.m.
"Voice to Vision IV: It Was Meant to Be--Germany, Tibet, and Laos," with Holocaust survivor Margot De Wilde, Tibetan survivor Dorjay Sakya, and Laotian survivors Yer and Pa Lee.

"We took anything they said, any idea that came up during our meetings, and put it right on the canvas," says Feinberg. "And when the survivor comes back to the next meeting, we ask if the [visual representations] feel right. Because we're not illustrating in a linear way what happened to these people; we're trying to [capture what they feel reliving these memories] as they look at the imagery."

Their emotional response, he adds, can be triggered by colors, abstract forms, and visual metaphors. For example, in "My Name Was No. 133909 and I Sang," Brandys wanted the artists to include music with the collage to represent him singing to a Nazi executioner (as the last resort to save his life). Instead, Feinberg and his team found a picture of a birdman playing a flute by an unknown Renaissance artist that Brandys strongly endorsed as a metaphor for his experience.

Each session was videotaped and made into educational videos and documentaries that have aired on Minnesota Public Television. The "Voice to Vision" artwork has also traveled extensively across the United States.

"We need to preserve these experiences to create a visceral impact on those of us who weren't present, who didn't experience, who can't give testimony to the terrors, so that those experiences can live on in us," says Ellen Kennedy, CHGS interim director. "'Voice to Vision' is exactly that: a lasting voice, a statement, a testament to what was seen."

The "Voice to Vision" exhibit runs at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery through October 2. Galley hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday.

To learn more about the project or to see samples of the art, visit the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.