CHGS Art and Collections

When compiling resources for Women’s History Month, in a country where reproductive rights and gender justice initiatives are in grave peril, I found it necessary to highlight numerous strands of interrelated histories. The socialist origins of International Women’s Day, and the role of Jewish immigrants who later fell victim to state repression and genocide, are just two legacies informing contemporary feminist and gender-based activism. 

Crucially as a Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, we must also confront how gender always dictates the lived experience of victims and survivors of mass violence, both during the events in question and following. We are painfully aware of the ways individuals become targets in specific ways due to their gender. Furthermore, political decisions and humanitarian relief often fail to take gender into account, keeping women, genderqueer, and other non-male-identifying individuals away from negotiation tables and policy action. 


The Center has been busily promoting the work of Professor David Feinberg, who has retired from the Department of Art after an illustrious 50-year career. A retrospective of Feinberg’s work is currently on display at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery on the UMN West Bank Campus. 

The works on display serve as important reminders, best summed up in Feinberg’s own words: 

“All art comes from the unconscious. The unconscious makes connections between the past and the present. Truth has to be found, not contrived or preconceived. Seeking truth is the way to originality. The only true thing a person has is their unique perception of the world.” 

The exhibition, Divide Up Those in Darkness from the Ones Who Walk in Light, consists of two collections: Voice to Vision and a collection of Feinberg’s earlier works. Upon walking into the gallery, one first sees several of these early pieces on display, encouraging visitors to immediately engage with an overarching theme of the retrospective: the role of art for the individual—not only to shape public consciousness but also larger arcs of history. Subjects of these early pieces include partisans active during World War II, the 1956 explosion at the Brooklyn piers, the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the “Day the Music Died” to name a few. 


The CHGS collections include not only a diverse array of papers and physical objects but also many of the Center’s past lectures and events, as well as a backlog of oral testimonies from survivors of genocide. Not to mention: CHGS partners with the UMN Libraries to promote the USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive, which includes 55,000+ oral testimonies from genocide survivors. 

Although this rich set of materials is used by faculty, students, researchers, and K12 teachers alike, there are obstacles to managing the collections. Arguably central, and accessioned at various points over time, are under-utilized parts of the collections that include artworks, photographs, materials from Center-sponsored exhibitions, and rare items from private donors. Two such collections are the focus of this blog post. 


On October 24th, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) hosted a celebration honoring 20 years of serving its mission to promote awareness and encourage collaboration in the study of mass violence. The event brought together faculty, community members, advocates, as well as current student and alumni, to commemorate the legacy of Steven Feinstein, CHGS’s founding director, and to acknowledge the Center’s current initiatives. Guests toured a pop-up exhibition of artwork from the CHGS archives and enjoyed a musical program.

Speakers included Dean Coleman from the College of Liberal Arts, CHGS Director Alejandro Baer, graduate student Wahutu Siguru, Program Coordinator Jennifer Hammer, and Dr. Rebecca Feinstein, daughter of founding director Steven Feinstein. Many spoke of the interdisciplinary strength of CHGS, which works with faculty and students from a number of departments across campus. Others discussed the wide variety of CHGS initiatives, from outreach events to past symposiums, as well as future course offerings.

Guests left with a copy of the annual report, news on upcoming events, and pages from the first-ever CHGS newsletter 20 years ago. Overall, the event provided an opportunity to reflect upon 20 successful years of CHGS, as well as the chance to look ahead at what is to come.

Dr. Rebecca Feinstein, daughter of founding director Steven Feinstein

Artwork Exhibition from the CHGS Archives

CHGS Team. From left to right: Alejandro Baer, Camille Grey, Wahutu Siguru, Tomas Romano, Brooke Chambers, Alexandra Tiger, Demetrios Vital, Dana Queen, Miray Philips (Missing: Jennifer Hammer)

When I first saw Fritz Hirschberger’s paintings in art storage, I was struck with cognitive dissonance. In the time that I’ve worked for CHGS, I looked at Hirschberger’s paintings and read about the artist quite a bit, but only in print or online in CHGS’ digital collection.

This was my first encounter with a Hirschberger painting in its physicality. Five feet tall, painted in translucent layers of bright oils, there, before me, stretched a saturated orange and purple canvas filled with the a war horseman brandishing deadly weapons. Hirschberger chose the Fifth Horseman precisely because it could not be discerned through physical senses,* yet here in my first encounter seeing this piece in person, it was arresting precisely because of its physical nature.

Weeks later, the paintings were installed and ready as part of [Re]Telling, an exhibition of Holocaust art, narrative, and contemporary response, held in the Tychman Shapiro Gallery at the Sabes JCC. Yehudit Shendar, retired Deputy Director and Senior Art Curator of Yad VaShem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum, gave remarks at the opening reception of [Re]Telling featuring seven paintings by survivor Fritz Hirschberger selected from the CHGS permanent collection.

“[Re]Telling” participating artists and artwork by Robert O. Fisch


We have grown accustomed to seeing photographs captured during conflict dehumanizing victims and fetishizing their suffering. Our Eye on Africa column has previously discussed the disproportionate ways in which the pain of non-western victims is consumed through the media, even though it does not educate us about the context leading to the suffering. Yet, other forms of war-photography capture something else: everyday life under conflict. Instead of focusing on the pain and suffering of victims, these photographs aim to highlight the continuity of life. They focus on the possibility of a future and the necessity to maintain a sense of self. Conflict and suffering can in fact be captured in ways that do not always freeze moments of agony and death in eternity.

Graffiti in Aleppo, Syria


In our post on the photography of Maxine Rude – on display in the Eiger-Zaidenweber Holocaust Resource Center at the Sabes JCC – we touched on issues involved in exhibiting these photographs, including that a photographer’s choices on how to present a subject (framing, selecting, and excluding subjects) may influence a viewer’s perception.

A curator also makes influential choices, deciding how and what to include in an exhibit, and what to exclude. In putting pieces of art or photography together, these works may take on new and unexpected meanings in a visitor’s mind that were never intended by artist or curator, but are a result of the exhibition nonetheless. Or, a curator may intentionally be drawing comparisons that were not in the original artist’s mind.

In presenting Maxine Rude’s work, we take note of her portrayal of children and families, asking questions of the viewer about their response to seeing these victims of World War II and the Holocaust.


CHGS Director Alejandro Baer has written about the analogies drawn between refugees fleeing Nazi Germany in 1938 and the current global refugee crisis. The ease in which comparisons are made between those who fled World War II and those fleeing the atrocities committed by ISIS and other groups is made stronger by the widely circulated images of refugees we see on a near-daily basis.


Lucien Philipe Moretti, “Father’s Barber Shop,” c. 1973, on display in Wilson Library at UMN

Displaced: The Semiotics of Identity, is an ambitious exhibition of art and historical artifacts that explores diverse aspects of the displacement of people and things, and its many repercussions. On display at the Wilson Library at the University of Minnesota, this sprawling exhibit inhabits walls throughout the first and the fourth floor, as well as having an online component. The exhibit’s theme is to explore the meaning made of a person’s or object’s identity in different spaces and times. The topic is in-and-of-itself huge, but the process whereby the show developed is why it is so ambitious: Displaced was curated by students.