Kean profs’ 20-year collaboration displays Holocaust through art and poetry
By Yuri Smishkewych| Published Dec. 9, 2015
Auschwitz, Belsen, Dachau, Sobibor…these were just a few of the places where murder occurred by the millions and, for those who survived the death camps, a lifetime of recurring nightmares were born.
The victims were Jewish, Roma, homosexuals, or broadly labeled “political dissidents.”
This was the Holocaust, and all this happened a little more than 70 years ago.
And, for over 20 of those years, artists Jo Jochnowitz and Dr. Susana Rich have worked collaboratively as a response to those harrowing events: bringing to life on to paper—via different mediums—the experiences they heard as told by those who were there.
“I grew up during the war, and all those anxieties [about the Holocaust] I heard went into a closet. And then, as I got older that closet burst open: I was ready to draw,” said Jochnowitz, a Kean professor of fine arts, as he stood beside a charcoal drawing of dozens of babies cling onto a woman who holds her hands up to the sky in despair, her face, creased and mangled— torn up by torrents of tears. “It was either going to the shrink or drawing,” he added.
For Rich, inspiration to write poetry came from the interviews she conducted of Holocaust survivors as part of the archives of Kean’s Holocaust Resource Center.
“I felt that poetry would embody what I was hearing [from the survivors],” said Rich, who is a professor in Kean’s School of English Studies and a recipient of the Presidential Excellence Award for Distinguished Teaching in 2001.
In the selected poems at the exhibit, Rich’s poetry conjures mental images of the viciousness of the Holocaust. In one particular poem entitled “Numbers,” Rich writes “Always the waiting/Always the fear of becoming one:/ one of two to be shot;/one alone by the fence;/one to go, or one to stay behind.”
At present, the two artists’ works are on display in an exhibit titled “Ashes, ashes: An artist and a poet respond to Holocaust” at the James Howe Gallery in the Vaughn-Eames building, where approximately 21 of Jochnowitz’s charcoal drawings stand beside award-winning poetry written by Rich.
Past exhibits by the pair included a ‘94 showing in South Orange and at Ryder University in ‘95.
“A lot of people have come to see the show and it’s the same reaction— they’re awestruck,” said Marlene Ferreira, a Kean student majoring in Art History and Interior Design, who works at the James Howe Gallery.
The “Ashes, ashes” exhibit held its opening night and panel discussion on Nov. 12, 2015 and is on display until Dec. 22. Th e show is co-sponsored by Kean University’s Human Rights Institute, Department of Fine Arts, School of English Studies and the Kean University Foundation.