by Emily Weitz
In the upcoming exhibition of your late husband, Michael Knigin’s, artwork at Temple Adas Israel, the question is asked: Can artwork depicting the past still reach us? What do you think?
The beginning of Michael’s artist’s statement asked the question, “Can art work, interpreting the dark past, still reach us in the hustle of our normalized life? He said, “I feel the responsibility of the artist, and any enlightened human being, is to continue to make us aware of the past, we cannot escape the horrible reality. We have a responsibility to face it and learn its lessons: We will never forget!”
I’ve found many examples of how Michael’s artwork is being used both nationally and internationally by educators and Holocaust memorial websites to teach the lessons of remembrance. One example is the story of 10th graders in Ohio who, each creating an image of their own, sent them to us in response to Michael’s sending the class a gift of his artwork, while they were using his images from the internet to learn about the Holocaust.
And, of course, there are the exhibitions of the past, including the permanent installation of images from his Anne Frank series at the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the wonderful exhibition held at the Rumbaugh Synagogue in Budapest, Hungary, in October 2009, shortly before Michael was diagnosed with lung cancer.
I wonder what Michael, who once defined his Holocaust Survivor series as “his legacy”, might say about the importance of remembering the Holocaust, through art and otherwise.
Michael always referred to his Remembrance Art Series as his legacy. He made sure that his website was linked to as many Holocaust memorial and museum sites as possible, thereby giving the world the opportunity to view his “legacy,” and to embrace his interpretive artwork as a tool to learn and to understand the lessons depicting the “dehumanization of mankind.” Of this, he said, “since childhood [he] was aware of personal liabilities, and the equality of all people being usurped by the law.”
How does Michael’s work give us the opportunity to remember?
In 1975-76, Michael worked for The Israel Museum and The Jerusalem Foundation. Overseen by Mayor Teddy Kolleck and the Ministry of Education and of Labor, he trained and educated a new generation of international printmakers at the first professional printmaking atelier in the Middle East. During his tenure, he was given the rare honor by Yad Vashem to reproduce photographs from its archives. And, he began meeting many holocaust survivors. Being deeply moved by their stories, instead of writing them down, he began creating pictures that told their stories.
Because Michael’s work is so visually powerful, and his creative talents exceed the boundaries of banality, the story each image tells brings increasing awareness of a dark period of human history that might get lost in time. Michael used his own visual language to impact the viewer in a new and visceral way. While the images may be disturbing, they are at the same time beautiful and incredibly designed. They are unique and complete. And, they tell the story passionately.
As Michael said, “I hope that my work will help people to remember the horror of the Holocaust and it will be in their consciousness when they interact with others.”