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Remembering The Holocaust: Silent Voices Speak

On March 9th, a very special exhibit opened at the McAllen International Museum. Entitled Remembering The Holocaust: Silent Voices Speak, it is an exhibition of mixed-media paintings by German-born artist Barbara Shilo. The artist depicts scenes from documentary photographs of the Holocaust taken between 1933 and 1945, researched in the archives of the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. In her 14 works, Shilo multiplies, alters and adds dimension and color to the original scenes. The result is tender yet chilling.

Shilo’s paintings put a human face on a devastating time in history, and give voice to the millions who perished in the Holocaust. Shilo’s previous works have been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the United States. Silent Voices Speak gives new insight into the Holocaust and links it to social injustice today.

For Barbara Shilo, Remembering The Holocaust is an exhibition that evolved over 60 years from her family’s escape during the Holocaust in 1938 to the completion of her 14 mixed-media paintings that tell a universal story. During most of Shilo’s career, the Holocaust was not a major part of her work. But it was always in the back of her mind, lingering as abstract questions. “What if I hadn’t escaped? How would I have survived, what would I have done to survive? What would life be like for a concentration camp inmate…” As Shilo describes, “For years the Holocaust was a subject that none of us could face. It was a subject so deep and sacred, I kept asking myself, what could I do about it?”

Shilo eventually knew that she had to paint about the Holocaust. She was sensitive and wary about the subject, wanting to avoid a purely personal expression. “Here was something so important in my life but it was not my experience,” Shilo says. “I felt the only way to do it was to present facts in some measure of an art form.”

Shilo started the project by pouring over thousands of documentary photographs in the archive files of the U.S. Holocaust Museum. At first, she was drawn by poignancy and meaning. Then she discovered that when the photos were grouped, they gave a factual portrayal of events in the Holocaust with an eerie, natural chronology resettlement and deportation, death camps, extermination, death marches, liberation and survivors. This became the structure for her exhibition. To capture the story, Shilo depicts the original documentary scenes, but transforms the photos with a variety of mixed-media techniques. Each painting has a three-dimensional quality, with materials such as splinters of wood, snippets of barbed wire and foam core. Shilo frequently creates mirror images of the original photographs or repeats specific segments. The paintings are on paper in gouache opaque watercolor. As Shilo notes, “The most important part was to put the images into color. Life is in color. Black and white gives you a certain distance. With color, the pieces speak directly to you.”

Silent Voices Speak: Remembering The Holocaust will remain on exhibit through May 26, 2002. This is a haunting, compelling exhibit that no one will want to miss.
International Museum of Art & Science
(956) 682-1564