Event runs through October 2018
By James Russell
Special to the TJP
In her latest exhibition to the National Center for Jewish Art inside the Museum of Biblical Art, Houston artist Barbara Hines does not deviate from her well-known colorful landscapes and portraits as seen in Mysteries, Signs and Wonders: The Art of Barbara Hines, the center’s inaugural exhibition in 2014.
Hines takes a complete risk with mixed results. The exhibition, A Celebration of Survival, is an interactive, educational exhibition featuring original paintings, photographs and mixed media loosely centered on 18 acrylic portraits of the Righteous of the Nations, the Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The exhibition, which opened Friday, Nov. 2, and runs through October 2018, comes from the Holocaust Museum Houston. It was more than a year in the making; Hines’ goal was to integrate interactive and educational components with more traditional elements of an art exhibition.
“The museum curators told me a third of the audience was between 8 and 18. I wanted to make it interactive to get young people involved and make it three dimensions, interactional, with sculpture and not just painting. I didn’t want it to just be intellectual. I wanted to use technology and more than just use images,” Hines said.
The Museum of Biblical Art’s considerably larger space allowed her to expand some features, including the entrance into the exhibition. Guests enter into a dark, dimly lit hallway of overlapping life-sized silkscreen photographs of children imprisoned in concentration camps. Mirrors are also on both walls, forcing you to see the children at the front and back.
“You can’t be isolated. These are real people,” said Scott Peck, an art historian and curator of the Museum of Biblical Art.
“The whole gallery is an immersive experience she has designed. She wanted to focus on children. Even though I’m an adult, it softens me up,” said Peck.
“I wanted to create an ambience of walking among the ghosts, the memories of the children, with the dim lights and mirrors catching oneself and the children and intermingling with them. The idea was to set a mood, not just walk in and view paintings,” Hines said.
The exhibition is personal, too.
Hines’ father was a Holocaust survivor who escaped Germany with his family to Australia. She was raised Christian and had no knowledge of her Jewish faith until her father revealed his past before she moved to Germany for a teaching gig.
“He suffered so much as a result of his Jewish heritage that he wanted a fresh start,” Hines said.
She did not begin seriously studying and ultimately converting to Judaism until around 2002, after discovering her mother was also Jewish.
Her father’s revelation was so important, in fact, she includes a portrait of him in the exhibition alongside two heroes of the Holocaust: the famed late writer Elie Wiesel and Father Patrick Desbois, a French Catholic priest who identifies and memorializes the mass graves of Jews during the Holocaust.
The exhibition also features other interactive artwork by Hines, including a Mitzvah Tree. The tree and portraits appear across from a video about Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites questioning the validity of the mass genocide.
Even if her upcoming shows are decidedly different — including a set of Icelandic landscapes and her first performance art piece, Joseph on the Red Carpet — reminding people about the heroes of the Holocaust remains more than a temporary interest. She hopes the show will tour elsewhere to keep its message alive.
After walking through the show, the question remains, what is that message?
“I wanted to make it something positive and not just focus on the negative side of it. This way young people would be attracted and learn from things about their collective history and learn to accept others who behave and look differently. That way we could all move forward in being accepting of our differences and celebrating our oneness as human beings,” Hines said.