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Art Gallery

Yonia Fain: Refugee Modernism

Brutality, survival, and hope in the daring art by a Holocaust survivor artist

  • Opening Reception: Oct. 18, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Curator Talk and Literary Event: Oct. 25, 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.
  • Fundraiser: Nov. 15, 6 to 9 p.m.
    film screening and Q&A from 6:00-8:00pm
    private reception starting at 8:00-9:00pm.

Curated by Yevgeniy Fiks, Professor of Visual Arts, MCCC

Yonia Fain: Refugee Modernism is a solo exhibition of the 20th -century modernist painter and Yiddish poet Yonia Fain (1913-2013).

Born in Ukraine in 1913, Yonia Fain as a young child fled to Vilnius (then Poland) with his family where he received his education and began producing art and Yiddish poetry. At the time of the Nazi invasion of Poland in September 1939, Yonia was living in Warsaw and fled to Vladivostok in the far eastern region of Soviet Union. Then, obtaining falsified documents and transit visas signed by Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, Fain escaped through Siberia to Japan and spent the remainder of World War II in Shanghai, China (under Japanese control), where he continued to paint and write Yiddish poetry.

As the war ended, Fain moved to Mexico where his art was championed by Diego Rivera, who curated exhibitions of Fain’s work and writing catalog essays as well. During those years 1947-1953, Yonia was commissioned to do a number of major murals such as the 1949 wall mural and ceiling dome painting for the Memorial Chapel, Panteon Israelita, Cementerio Ashkenazi, in Mexico City. He also represented Mexico in the 1952 Carnegie International Exhibition of Contemporary Painting in Pittsburgh. In 1953, Fain moved to New York and had numerous exhibitions there. He continued to be a prolific poet of Yiddish poetry , serving as the President of the Yiddish Pen Society, winning many awards, and authoring five books including Nyu-Yorker adresn: Dertseylungen (New York Addresses: Stories) in 1995, and Der Finftersman: lider (The Fifth Season Poems) in 2007.

While Fain’s pre-World War II works didn’t survive, his postwar works and poetry are deeply connected to the themes of brutality, survival and hope as well as modernist artistic concerns, such as the break with the past and the search for new forms of expression.

The exhibition engages with the legacy of 20th -century modernism and the themes of atrocities, despair, refuge, migration, and humanism. The exhibition reactivates the legacy of Yoni Fain’s art and interrogates the connection between modern art and Yiddish literature that Fain’s work exemplifies.

The exhibition includes Yonia Fain’s art from the collection of Mercer County Community College, Congress for Jewish Culture, and private collections.

This exhibition is a collaboration between The Gallery at MCCC and the Mercer County Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center at MCCC.

This exhibition is held concurrently with the exhibition Modern-ish: Yonia Fain and the Art History of Yiddishland at The James Gallery at CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. Together, the two exhibitions celebrate Yonia Fain’s artistic legacy this year, which marks the 110th anniversary of Fain’s birth and 10 years since his passing.

Partners: Mercer County Culture and Heritage Foundation, Mercer County Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center @ MCCC, The James Gallery @ CUNY Graduate Center, Congress for Jewish Culture, League for Yiddish

Translations: Albert Rosenblatt and Sheva Zucker

October 18: Opening Reception for the exhibition.

October 25: Curator’s talk and poetry reading. MCCC professor of visual arts Yevgeniy Fiks will speak on Yonia Fain’s life and work, followed by a poetry reading, with the participation of Dr. Barbara Krasner, MCCC professor and the director of the Mercer County Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center at MCCC as well as MCCC creative writing students, who will produce new writing in response to Yonia Fain’s art and poetry.

November 15: Fundraiser to benefit the Mercer County Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center at MCCC. The event will feature a public screening of the film YONIA FAIN: WITH PEN AND PAINTBRUSH (director Josh Waletzky, produced by the League for Yiddish) featuring interviews with Yonia Fain conducted by Yiddish language and culture professor Dr. Sheva Zucker. During this in-person event, Dr. Sheva Zucker will introduce the film, read samples of Yonia Fain’s poetry, and be available for Q&A after the screening.

A private reception with Sheva Zucker will follow the pubic screening and presentation.

Sheva Zucker’s bio:

Sheva Zucker is the author of the textbooks Yiddish: An Introduction to the Language, Literature and Culture, Vols. I and II. She taught Yiddish and Jewish literature for many years at Duke University in North Carolina and in the Uriel Weinreich Summer Program under the auspices of Columbia University and the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York City. She was for several years the translation editor of the Pakn Treger, the magazine of the National Yiddish Book Center and writes on women in Yiddish literature. She recently retired from her position as the executive director of the League for Yiddish and the editor of its magazine Afn shvel.

Gallery Hours

Mon., Tue., Thur.: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Wed.: 12 to 7 p.m.

Upcoming Exhibits

Mercer County Artists 2024

May 13 - July 22, 202

Contact Us

(609) 570-3589

The Gallery at MCCC
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windsor, NJ 08550
The Gallery at MCCC is located on the second floor of the Communications Building (CM).

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