Wayne State is one of four North American locations to host the traveling exhibition titled Forbidden Art, a collection of images of artwork created by concentration camp prisoners while they were held by the Nazis during World War II.
Forbidden Art is free and open to the public. A public opening will be held 7:00–8:30 p.m., Thursday, September 6, at St. Andrew’s on the campus of Wayne State University, 918 Ludington Mall, Detroit, MI 48202. Regular public hours are: Thursdays and Fridays, 11:00–5:00; Saturdays and Sundays, Noon–4:00; September 7–28.
The exhibition originated at Poland’s Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and is made up of large format, color photos of drawings and sculptures made by inmates of the Auschwitz, Buchenwald, and Ravensbrueck Nazi concentration camps.
Dr. Matthew Seeger, dean of Wayne State’s College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts noted that the exhibition is a unique opportunity to make these images accessible to Wayne State’s students and the larger community. “It is a privilege to have them on campus,” he said.
"Forbidden Art is, in its essence, a celebration of the human spirit,” said Mike Smith, Jewish Community archivist at Wayne State’s Walter P. Reuther Library and coordinator of the exhibition’s stop at WSU. “While imprisoned in horrible conditions by the brutal Nazi regime, artists continued to produce the works of art that are represented in this exhibit. It is an honor that Wayne State was selected as one of the chosen venues in the United States."
According to the director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywiński, "The memory is carried in the words of the survivors. But it is also stored in the objects remaining after Auschwitz. These are two faces of the same authenticity."
Forbidden Art is divided into two parts. One part portrays the reality of the camps: the plights of the inmates, scenes from the functioning of the camps, and portraits of prisoners. A second part offers a look at various kinds of escape from camp reality: caricatures, albums containing greetings, and fairy tales prisoners wrote for their children.
Most of the photographs show works of graphic art but there also are such items as a bracelet with scenes depicted on it, found near the gas chamber on the Auschwitz II–Birkenau grounds; a crucifix; and a miniature figure of a devil made from tape and a piece of wire, which was used by prisoners for smuggling correspondence.
Each of the photographs shown in the exhibition is accompanied by a historical commentary and excerpts from archival accounts. The original works of art are kept at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum to protect them from possible damage.
Artists whose work is shown include Peter Edel, Maria Hiszpanska, Franciszek Jazwiecki, Mieczyslaw Koscielniak, Halina Olomucka, Stanislawa Panasowa-Stelmaszewska, Marian Ruzamski, Josef Sapcaru, Wlodzimierz Siwierski, Zofia Stepien, Jozef Szajna, Stanislaw Tralka and several anonymous prisoners. The photographs in the exhibition are the work of Michal Dziewulski.
The run of Forbidden Art at Wayne State University is made possible in part by exhibition sponsors Hillel of Metro Detroit and the Holocaust Memorial Center. Event sponsors from Wayne State University include Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Dean of Students Office, the Department of History, the James Pearson Duffy Department of Art and Art History, the Walter P. Reuther Library and the Wayne State University Press.
Prior to its run at Wayne State, Forbidden Art will see its North American debut at the Polish Mission in Orchard Lake, MI. Marcin Chumiecki, director of the Polish Mission, has worked closely with Mike Smith, the Reuther Library and Wayne State University for the past several years. The Polish Mission is one of the premier centers for Polish history, art and genealogy in the United States. As a primary contact for the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and exclusive partner for the Forbidden Art exhibit, director Chumiecki was instrumental in promoting Wayne State as a venue. Forbidden Art appears at the Polish Mission August 17 - September 1.