"In Search of Hope," paintings and poems by Saúl Balagura, will be on view at Three Allen Center, 333 Clay St., in downtown Houston through Oct. 31, 2008. Viewing hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Admission is free.
"In Search of Hope" is a tribute exhibition to honor those who perished in the Holocaust as well as remind Americans of the importance of coexistence on the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The exhibition will consist of 19 works that are included in Balagura’s larger collection "Holocaust Series." The paintings are done in oil, acrylic and watercolor on paper and canvas. Each piece is accompanied by poetry and prose written by Balagura that tell the story of the Holocaust through poignant imagery and heartfelt expressions.
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.
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 a medical doctor with a degree from Universidad del Valle and holds a doctorate 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. Balagura has since moved to Houston, Texas and can be found painting at his Winterset studio. 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.
Underwriting for "In Search of Hope" was provided by Norma and Lawrence Gordon, with special thanks to Continental Airlines, official airline of Holocaust Museum Houston.
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.