The legacy of genocides across the world share the spotlight at Holocaust Museum Houston’s (HMH) first contemporary juried exhibition, “GENOCIDE: Man’s Inhumanity to Humankind. Among the talented artists whose work is displayed is University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) associate professor Mark Cervenka.
The exhibition, which received more than 600 submissions from Texas artists, features 65 artists who explore the suffering humans are capable of bestowing upon one another. According to HMH, the exhibition’s topic of genocide is part of its mission to teach the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
In an ironic twist, Cervenka had recently finished the painting titled, “Legacy,” six months prior to hearing about the HMH open call to artists. He knew immediately that the painting would fit perfectly into the exhibition.
However, Cervenka’s original theme of “Legacy” wasn’t about the Holocaust.
Instead the painting began with the “issues of education and how we, as a people, try to cultivate a culture that is open, critical in its thinking, fair, respectful and civil. The Holocaust emerged from a culture where there was only one entity— the Nazis—who said there was only one way [and one viewpoint to teach].”
“Legacy,” depicts life after World War II in Germany and reflects upon generations lost in the Holocaust and addresses the trauma to a society that rejects diversity and unfettered education. Cervenka, who is also the curator and director of UHD’s O’Kane Gallery, says the painting also describes the tragic legacy of Germany.
“Germany’s legacy from the early 20th century includes the Holocaust and what it did to the country and its people,” said Cervenka. “It’s what people will remember them by — a fascist government that was dictatorial. The people weren’t allowed to be in a situation that was safe or encouraged free thinking. My painting is about the Holocaust, but it’s also about a culture that created such hatred and singular views.”
In his painting, a woman is seen roaming the streets, with a bag in tow, among the devastation and havoc—the aftermath or the war—where the government is crumbling; education has been disrupted or destroyed; there’s surrender; and trust has been broken.
“The bag is a metaphor of maybe that’s all she has left, or maybe that’s her baggage—she can’t let it go,” Cervenka explains. “It’s part of her entire culture and she has to take it with her. She can’t forget it.”
Cervenka has been curator for many previous exhibits that deal with nature, social issues and equality. Whatever he is working on, he tries to make it relatable and open to interpretation.
“Legacy” will be on display through Dec. 31 at the Holocaust Museum Houston (5401 Caroline Street). An eBook of the show’s catalog can be viewed here.
“Legacy.” By Mark Cervenka