Artist Seeks to Change Attitudes by "Plowing Stones"

HOUSTON, TX (May 29, 2005) - Holocaust Museum Houston presents a unique view of one of history's darkest periods in a new exhibit opening July 22, one that attempts not to depict the Holocaust from an historical perspective but rather from an artist's abstract conception of the emotion, drama and courage the period fostered.

"Plowing Stones" will be the first exhibition of 28 new works from the "Holocaust Series" by abstract expressionist Saúl Balagura and includes a 24-foot installation and works in oil, acrylic and watercolor on paper and canvas.

Accompanying the exhibition is the debut of a book of poetry and prose by Balagura under the same name.
Balagura actually will complete one work, a 7-foot by 11-foot mural, during the opening reception at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 21. The exhibit formally opens to the public at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 22 and runs through Sept. 25 in the Mincberg Gallery at Holocaust Museum Houston, 5401 Caroline St. in Houston's Museum District. Admission is free.

Unique to the exhibit is the fact that, unlike other artists who depict Holocaust themes, Balagura is not a Holocaust survivor and has not even visited a concentration camp, drawing instead from his own mind to depict both the horror and the hope of the period.

"I had been painting and writing for 40 years before I ever started the Holocaust Series," said Balagura.

Of his motivation, he says simply, "These are memories of something I never saw. It's like something cast in my mind, in my imagination, that I felt compelled to do." Of critics who might question works of art based on the Holocaust, he says, "I see the Holocaust like Chagall saw his 'little village.' It is the same philosophy, no difference. These are my landscapes."

His interest in the Holocaust began in the 1940s when the future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin visited Balagura's childhood home in Colombia and talked of the displaced people who needed a homeland. Later, Balagura remembers learning that a close childhood friend who had died had once been a prisoner at the concentration camp in Buchenwald, Germany.

"I never knew what she must have lived through until after she died. She never talked about it. That event started a thought process that never ceased from that day on," he said.

Emotion is a common theme of his works. The painting and poem "Go Away," are intended to depict the horrible moment when parents had to make a decision to part with their children to save them.

"One can say that such a terrible psychological conundrum that so many parents had to experience during the war may symbolize the inhumanity mankind can inflict upon itself. There are symbolic aspects in the painting that raise the question of survival for those parents that stay as well as for the children that are leaving," Balagura said.

In "The Two of Us," Balagura tries to convey what a couple that met years before, that loved and shared hopes and dreams might have experienced as they marched naked to a death that neither could have imagined.

"Death Posing for the Artist," the 24-foot installation, was conceived as a long roll of paper symbolizing the Torah. Over a three-year period, its content emerged as Balagura's conception of what must have been the last thoughts of a man just before dying.

Balagura says the title of his exhibition, "Plowing Stones," reflects the change in consciousness of the dangers of intolerance and violence, as exemplified by the Holocaust, that he hopes patrons will undergo. "When you plow a field of stones, you hope that by moving the stones, you will expose some earth and that something good will grow from it," he said.

Balagura was born in Cali, Colombia, in 1943 almost a decade after his parents emigrated from Romania. His first solo painting exhibition was at age 17. Throughout his life, he has moved in parallel universes of arts and sciences. The self-taught artist is also an M.D. with a degree from Universidad del Valle and holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Princeton University and a neurosurgery degree from Albert Einstein Medical Center.

In 1994, he retired from the world of science and opened a studio in Tesuque, New Mexico, where he now pursues painting and writing. His expressionistic work is a direct result of the interaction of his scientific background with artistic influences from artists as varied as Willem de Kooning, Eduardo Guayasamin, el Greco, Pablo Neruda and Gabriel García Márquez.

His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States.

Underwriting for Balagura's poetry book, "Plowing Stones," was provided by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

Coinciding with his exhibit at Holocaust Museum Houston, Balagura's "Girls Series" will be shown at the Anya Tish Gallery at 4411 Montrose Blvd., beginning Saturday, July 23, through Aug. 20. Since the 1960s, as a counterbalance to his Holocaust-theme work, Balagura has been painting the "Girls Series." The psychological abstract expressionist portraits convey the perception of society towards women and, at the same time, give homage to the masters who have portrayed them throughout the centuries.

Also at Holocaust Museum Houston from July 15 through Oct. 9 is "In the Shadow of the Swastika: Hermann Wygoda," which chronicles the life of Hermann Wygoda, a Polish Jew whose parents, siblings and son were murdered in the gas chambers of Nazi death camps and who, himself, ended up commanding an Italian partisan unit.

Holocaust Museum Houston promotes awareness and educates the public of the dangers of prejudice, hatred and violence against the backdrop of the Holocaust by fostering remembrance, understanding and education. Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston's Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.

For more information about Holocaust Museum Houston, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.

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