February 6, 2015 | By John Perney
Miriam Brysk hasn’t been an artist all her life. In fact, if it wasn’t for her first career as a scientist, her digitally constructed works portraying old photographs in powerfully poignant ways—combining narrative realism and expressionism—may not have materialized.
“It made such a powerful impression on me,” said Brysk, during a campus visit February 4, about museum trips in New York as part of an art class back when she was an undergraduate. “And I said, someday I, too, will be able to express my feelings through art. And it became one of my dreams in life.
“My dream to become a scientist, however, started in high school. When something hits you in a way that’s so personal, that’s how dreams start. Most of my art is done through that fashion, that I am doing art as a scientist, not as an artist.”
For the Ann Arbor-based Brysk, who turns 80 next month, moving from her first accomplished career—she retired in 2000 as a University of Texas professor—into the start of a new dream meant revisiting old nightmares. But re-embracing her early childhood as a survivor of the Holocaust equipped her with the ability to give a new voice to Jews who lost theirs during that period.
“It felt like somebody had ripped a hole in my chest … it was so difficult for me to go back to the past, to think of what I had lived through, what my family lived through, most of whom died,” said Brysk, recalling a pivotal 2002 trip to Eastern Europe where she toured the remnants of Holocaust ghettos and camps. “Those wounds were opened. I realized that if I wanted to do Holocaust art, that I needed to hurt. … I needed the tears.”
Born in Warsaw, Brysk (right) and her family escaped German-occupied Poland in 1939. Two years later they were in Lida, in what is now Belarus, when the Nazis established the Lida ghetto. The family survived in large part because of her father’s surgical skills.
Scroll of Remembrance, a large collection of Brysk’s compelling work, is on exhibit in Bobbitt Visual Arts Center’s Munro Gallery through February 17. It represents her third exhibition of computer-enhanced, photographic-based artworks and also follows a pair of books—a memoir and a textbook on teaching the Holocaust through art—that, taken together, equals another dream realized.
For much more on Brysk’s life and work, visit her website, miriambrysk.com. And visit the Albion College Art and Art History Department’s Exhibitions web page for gallery hours and information on upcoming exhibits.