MORRISTOWN – Old books with pages torn or ripped out entirely, held together with wire and thread … these are the materials Jersey City artist Aileen Bassis used to create the sculptures symbolizing the lost lives of the Holocaust in her upcoming art exhibit on display from November 2 to 15, 2009, in the Upper Lobby, Annunciation Center, at the College of Saint Elizabeth, 2 Convent Road, Morristown, New Jersey.
The exhibit, which is free and open to the public, will run in conjunction with the 20th Annual College of Saint Elizabeth Week of Holocaust Remembrance, November 9 to 12. A Meet-the-Artist reception is scheduled for Monday, November 9, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Upper Lobby.
“Altered books seem to be such an appropriate structure for this work,” explained Bassis. “There is the reference to ‘people of the book.’ Books are very sacred to Jewish people – I recall dropping a prayer book and kissing it when I picked it up. Then there was the Nazi destruction of books, book burnings meant to destroy a culture. Books function as a source of narrative: you expect them to contain a story, a text, a journey through the mind. Finally, books are so very intimate. The reader is engaged with the author. There is no one else there when you read – just you and the text.”
The artist inserted her images into old books, tearing, layering, painting on the pages, piercing them and adding wire or thread. She included maps and text from a pre-World War II Yiddish folktale. The results are sculptural objects that contain fragmented images. Bassis creates a space to draw the viewer in, offering remnants of the past – and a terrible story.
Said Bassis, “The books are impenetrable, the images are partially obscured. Only bits and pieces of the past can be seen and reconstructed in our minds.”
The idea for the project began several years ago when Bassis was traveling through Europe. “I feel Europe is haunted by the events of the Second World War and the destruction of Europe’s Jewish communities. What tragedies took place behind these windows and doors, in these squares and on these streets?”
The key to Bassis’ work is a photo taken in Antwerp of an Orthodox Jewish man on a bicycle. Bassis explained, “I used the outline of that image to create stencils for monoprints. It’s an image of an individual, unknowingly moving toward overpowering forces in history. I’m interested in the tension between the information in the printed images and that idiosyncratic shape of the Man in the Hat. It’s like a piece of a puzzle, and the puzzle is the inexplicable horror that people can and continue to inflict: in Darfur, between the Shiites and Sunnis. The destruction continues. Deniers of all stripes continue to find willing believers. The Holocaust is an interrupted – and unfinished – narrative.”
Virginia Fabbri Butera, Ph.D., director of the Therese A. Maloney Art Gallery at the College, said that she chose the exhibition because of both the quality of the objects Bassis made and because of the powerful nature of the imagery. She added, “In addition, Bassis’ sculptures are a perfect counterpoint to many of the images in the exhibition, The Spirit of Charity, currently on display until November 11 in the Maloney Art Gallery, and remind us that some human beings can be incredibly cruel even as others are working to help each other out of altruism and self-sacrifice.”
Pictured here is one of Jersey City artist Aileen Bassis’s works that commemorates the victims of the Holocaust.
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