Art is an expression of one’s view of the world – and community art is this on a broad scale. During the month of October, one such art exhibit came to grace James Street North at the you me gallery. The exhibit, aptly named “Haimish,” was a collection of pieces made by the members of the Hamilton Jewish community and curated by Melinda Richter, to showcase their community history. “Working family stories and treasures of the Hamilton Jewish community” was the description of the collection, which featured art and stories mostly from the community’s children and elderly.
The term “haimish” means homey or comfortable in Yiddish, and was a perfect description of the atmosphere in the little gallery. The space had been transformed into a cozy living room, complete with a rug, fireplace and antique TVs. The art pieces were tidily tucked all around the room, as if in the private residence of an art enthusiast. Storyboards of the lives of some of the first members of the Hamilton Jewish community covered the walls, and the TV played videos of the elders talking about their first experiences in Canada.
Although the exhibit didn’t have a specific feature piece, the artwork made by the children of the community stood out as soon as you walked in the door of the gallery. Children had created displays of their families out of painted transparent sheets. The very last transparency was painted with a picture of their great grandparents, usually the first generation of the family to have moved to Canada. The next sheet was painted with pictures of the next generation, and so on until the very first sheet, which was a picture of the child. All the generations in a family could be seen through the sheets, showing the history of that family and how the stories of the elders shape and guide the younger ones. This piece really captured the spirit of the exhibit and conveyed how important family and community history are to the identity of the individual, even after generations have gone by.
The community’s committee on the project decided that the best way to tell these stories would be through art. The pieces were all made by members of the Jewish and arts communities in Hamilton, as a volunteer effort. The curator of the project, Melinda Richter, hopes that this will inspire other communities to also tell their stories through art, as a way of preserving and displaying their unique identities within the greater Hamilton community.