The mixed media include bravery: Amster Gallery draws on painful experience, knowledge

Art Review by John Carlos Cantu
Ann Arbor News, April 11, 2004

Miriam Brysk’s 19 mixed media prints “In a Confined Silence” cannot hide her hurt. But this extraordinary exhibit at the Jewish Community Center does illuminate how she surmounts her pain. Her work “Ghetto Uprising” for example features vividly realized archival images of the Warsaw Ghetto burst into flames. But Brysk also personalized this work by inserting photographs of her cousin, Sara Rosenboim, who died fighting in the conflict. The composition speckled background differs from the mournful images of Brysk’s young relative, and this contrast gives “Ghetto Uprising” a context that acknowledges the large scale genocide that occurred in Poland’s capital city while also mourning the loss of a loved one.

“Shattered Childhood” on the other hand, is heartbreakingly private. A semi-abstract work whose ghostly photographic image of Brysk as a girl was taken prior to the outbreak of the war in the summer of 1939, the print speaks volumes of her subsequent sense of vulnerability and loss of personal identity.

An enlarged acetone transfer from a photocopy of her family’s original print, “Shattered Childhood” is a mottled portrait that has been quite nearly erased. Its frayed condition gives the impression of a jagged sense of self esteem. The exhibit’s masterwork, “The Stones Weep” has undergone no fewer than 10 revisions ranging from an acetone transfer reversal of the original source material to the strategic amplification of key compositional elements. This remarkable visual document links the Hebrew language to the permanence of stone; it carves the visual image of a mother and child out of the same earthy material.

The “Stones Weep” is hopeful in its fortitude and sheer will to survive. Brysk’s impassioned linking of her people’s past to their future is enshrined in this artwork with a thorough determination. In doing so, Brysk has crafted a pictorial memorial of her deceased family and friends with a guarded optimism. It is with profound courage that she illustrates this past for us today.