Artist contemplates world through lens of parents’ Holocaust survival

Argentine artist Mirta Kupferminc usually says, about her life, that the most important thing that has happened to her occurred before she was born.

A native of Buenos Aires, Kupferminc is referring to the fact that her Hungarian-born mother and Polish-born father survived the Holocaust in the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz.

“The history my parents lived marked my life and marks me every day,” Kupferminc said in a telephone interview from her home in Buenos Aires last week.

This printmaker, painter and book and installation artist, who has exhibited around the world, will visit Milwaukee for the second time next week to speak and show her work.

Last November, Kupferminc combined trips to Chicago, where she had an exhibition, and Milwaukee, where she taught classes at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.

While she was here, Max Yela, head of the special collections department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee libraries and adjunct professor of art, saw her work. His interest led to UWM’s acquisition of a handmade book that she created in collaboration with poet/scholar Saul Sosnowski.

Sosnowski, 63, was also born in Argentina but left there at a young age and subsequently lived in Israel and the U.S. He is the founder and director of the Latin American Studies Center at the University of Maryland, where he also directs the Office of International Programs and serves as associate provost for international affairs.

Their collaborative work, titled “Borges and the Kabbalah: Paths to the Words,” is comprised of 29 original etchings and aquatints by Kupferminc and text by Sosnowski. And it is the only one of the 25 books that they created that is owned by an institution in the United States. Another is owned by a private collector in Los Angeles, Kupferminc said.

Always passionately involved in making art, Kupferminc, 53, said “exiles and migrations are the main theme of my general work. Place is never represented as stable and safe….”

In addition to the effects of her parents’ Holocaust background, Kupferminc’s ideas and art came to be strongly influenced both by Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and by the renowned Argentine writer Jorges Luis Borges.

Raised with Jewish culture and community, but without religious education or practice, Kupferminc describes herself as a cultural rather than a religious Jew. As an intensely spiritual person, however, she has pursued Jewish learning on her own as an adult, she said. And the study of Kabbalah,  in particular, attracted her.

 Distorted and hidden images
 

Kupferminc’s interest in Kabbalah was rooted, at least in part, in what it suggests about concepts that she was already intrigued with. For many years, she said, her art has incorporated anamorphosis (images that appear distorted until they are viewed from a certain angle) and hidden images.

“Not everything can be seen on the outside,” she said. “I am interested in the inner [reality] and that is exactly the same thing Kabbalah proposes.”

Kupferminc met Sosnowski when a mutual friend brought him to visit her studio in 2002.

Though she did not mention her interest in Kabbalah to Sosnowski at that time, upon returning to the U.S., he mailed her a book he had authored titled “Borges y la Cábala : La Búsqueda del Verbo.”

In both the work of Borges and in Kabbalah there is an order in the world, Kupferminc said. And both share a concern for the layers of meaning and aspects of reality that can only been seen by those who have the preparation, experience or knowledge to see beneath the literal. She studied Sosnowski’s book in depth and she said it became a kind of map for her.

Of their collaboration, Kupferminc said, “It is very hard to explain what the book is. It has a world inside. It’s a journey with such an energy and a deep true connection.”

Kupferminc and Sosnowski traveled to work together every four or five months for about five years. “The images and text were born in the encounters between us. This was not an illustrated text, both the text and the images just appeared,” she said.

For Kupferminc, as a daughter of parents who had no photos or any objects that related to their earlier lives, there was always a fascination with “objects that are witnesses of time and situations. I was raised with nothing old, [but] I have a respect for material [things],” she said.

She hopes, she added, that her work will live on in the future, beyond her lifetime.

Kupferminc is slated to give two lectures at UWM’s Golda Meir Library, 2311 E. Hartford Ave, in Special Collections on the fourth floor.

On Monday, Sept. 15 at 7 p.m., she will present “The Jewish Artist in Latin America,” and on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 7 p.m., “The Prints and Artist’s Books of Mirta Kupferminc.” Sosnowski will also participate in the lectures.

In conjunction with her lectures, some of her work will be featured in a two-woman exhibition with local mixed-media and installation artist Shira Rachel Apple at UWM’s Institute of Visual Arts (INOVA) Zelazo Center, Mary L. Nohl Galleries.

That exhibit, titled “Women of the Book: Mirta Kupferminc & Shira Rachel Apple,” opens Wednesday, Sept. 10. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Sunday 12-5 p.m. The exhibit runs through Oct. 19.

There will be an opening reception on Sunday, Sept. 14, from 2 to 5 p.m.

A smaller exhibit in the west wing lobby of the library explores Jewish book arts, including works by Karmela Berg, Diane Fine, Carol Hamoy, Tana Kellner, Mirta Kupferminc, David Moss, Carol Rosen and Caryl Seidenberg. “People of the Book: Jewish and Israeli Book Arts,” runs from Sept. 2 through Oct. 19.

Kupferminc will return to Milwaukee to give a free public lecture at MIAD on Feb. 26, 2009, as part of the Guido Brink Visiting Artist Lecture Series. Her work will also be featured in MIAD’s Culture in Transition Series from Jan. 16-March 21, 2009.