Haunting past kept alive in art


By Nicole Veenstra

Many things inspire artists, such as nature or the people that come into their lives. However, not many artists have been inspired like Grace Graupe-Pillard, who lost 70 family members in the Holocaust.

On Nov. 11, Rider University’s Art Gallery held an opening reception for Graupe-Pillard’s work entitled The Holocaust: Massacre of the Innocents. The exhibition, which showcases 14 original pieces, focuses on one family’s experience throughout the Holocaust.

“This venue has given me an opportunity to present my Holocaust series in its entirety, allowing the viewer to walk around the room and experience the exhibition as the narrative I originally intended,” Graupe-Pillard said.

In addition, she appreciated the space given because it allows “the spectator to step back and see the works together so the impact is all the more impressive and commanding.”

Inspired by Francisco de Goya’s Disasters of War, as well as her own family’s experiences in the Holocaust, Graupe-Pillard completed the series in 1993, after three years of working on it. Born to German Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany, Graupe-Pillard called the three years she spent on the series “personally cathartic.”

The majority of the pieces are painted with pastels on cutout canvases meant to represent a crouching person. Graupe-Pillard explained the silhouette as “intentionally ambiguous — the shape could be perceived as either a man or a woman who was either praying or defecating.” These pieces make up her series Nowhere To Go — One Family’s Experience and depict different parts of the Holocaust through mixed media, such as pastels and photographs. Although pastels are historically grouped with “pretty pictures,” Graupe-Pillard took them in a different direction, showing the pain and guilt her family felt, even after the Holocaust was over.

“In some of the pieces, I added photographs and documents which I photocopied and adhered to the canvas,” she said. “I wanted to exhibit the documents and photographs that my father had saved over many years without interjecting my own hand.”

Along with the 14 works of art being displayed, Graupe-Pillard also included a short, narrated video, explaining the 10 cutout canvases included in Nowhere To Go. The video helps the viewers understand where she was coming from and what she was thinking about while creating each piece, while still allowing them to make personal interpretations depending on their reaction to the series.

Dr. Harry Naar, professor and gallery director at Rider, chose to present this particular series “because the important aspects of the gallery are to expose students and the community to a wide spectrum of taste, as well as to connect to other departments in the University.” Through the exhibition, Naar made a connection with the Holocaust Center at Rider, and received a grant from the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission.

The gallery usually shows exhibitions for a month at a time, with two shows per semester, according to Naar.

“The University has a really good reputation,” he said.

Naar explained that this is why many of the artists who are chosen to exhibit accept, and some even request to be shown without being asked.

The exhibition of Graupe-Pillard is especially personal, including the names of her family members who were killed during the Holocaust.

“I hope the viewer is moved to a greater insight into history and to never forget the infamy of genocide for the future,” Graupe-Pillard said.

The Holocaust exhibit ends Dec. 18.

Graupe-Pillard’s piece “Massacre of the Innocents” is made from oil, alkyd, soluvar, wood and photographs and displays various bits of faces from the pictures. In the background, there are large silouettes of men running.
“Rabbit” shows a large rabbit with starved bodies in the foreground, part of the Nowhere To Go series.
A man is drawn in pastel struggling against barbed wire behind a fallen urn in “Buried Rights.”
“Prelude/Propoganda” features two men hugging, with the Jewish person stealing money from a German citizen.
In “Trees (Grave Marker),” barbed wire adorns the dead trees and building that surround a lone grave.
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