Art and activism come together to honor heroes of the Holocaust at Kent State
With the strength of Demeter, the wisdom of Athena and the speed of Hermes, Wonder Woman is a symbol of heroism for visual artist and activist Linda Stein. She uses the superhero as a recurring figure in her exhibit, “Holocaust Heroes: Fierce Females,” on display at Kent State University.
“I chose her because she confronted the bad guys. She protected the victimized without ever killing,” Stein said.
Wonder Woman, as well as Stein’s other inspirations, including Lady Gaga and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, represent female strength in an 11-tapestry series that highlights real women who did important work during the Holocaust. While some Holocaust heroes may be recognizable to viewers, such as young Jewish diarist Anne Frank, other featured women, such as Jewish underground leader Zivia Lubetkin, may be lesser known.
“I have chosen different faces, different aspects of heroism during the time of the Holocaust by women,” Stein said, “Very, very brave women from many walks of life.”
Each tapestry honors a different type of hero. For example, Ruth Gerber, a journalist who reported on and photographed Holocaust survivors, was a hero for the awareness she raised. Nancy Wake, a British agent during WWII, was a hero for her contributions to the war. And an unnamed woman who helped her family escape Germany before the Nazis completely took over, was a hero to her son Raymond Learsy by helping him stay safe.
The tapestries are made with a mix of mediums including canvas printed with archival ink and different forms of leather.
“A lot of black leather, which in my mind symbolizes strength and power,” Stein said.
Stein was inspired to create the tapestries after her involvement in the 2006 mockumentary, “Borat! Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.” In the film, Stein speaks to comedic actor Sacha Baron Cohen under the impression that he is Borat, a third-world reporter creating a documentary on women’s rights. When Boret starts spewing misogynistic ideas, Stein has enough and walks off camera. This interaction inspired her exhibit because she wants to prove women can be heroes, Stein said.
In addition to the 11 tapestries, the exhibit includes two sculptures.
The first, “Protector with Wonder Woman Shadow,” is an iteration of a sculpture form Stein has created repeatedly over many years.
“I looked at it and said, ‘It looks like armor. It looks like gods. What am I doing here?’” Stein said. “Then Wonder Woman came to mind, and I started seeing these figures I was making as symbols of protection.”
The second, “Spoon to Shell Sculpture,” is a collection of encased sculptures, each of which includes a spoon and seashell. The work is influenced by sexual assault that women would endure in concentration camps in order to receive a spoon to eat with.
The exhibit is on display in the CVA Gallery of the Center for Visual Arts at Kent State University until Sept. 29. The exhibit is open to the public, and Linda Hoeptner Poling, the associate professor who helped bring Stein’s work to the university, said she hopes community members of all ages can learn something from the exhibit.
“In art education here at Kent State, we have a very strong emphasis on social justice and how to make that very accessible for the K-12 children,” said Linda Hoeptner Poling, the associate professor who helped bring Stein’s work to the university.
The exhibit not only brings attention to the forgotten work of women in history but also highlights the importance of females in the art world, Hoeptner Poling said.
“We have to correct the narrative,” she said. “Women are not excluded from the history of arts. Women-made art and women should be central to the art world.”
Stein will give a lecture about gender justice in the CVA Gallery Friday at noon. A dance performance by Kent State students led by professor Ambre Emory-Maier will follow.