Student art featured at Holocaust Commission exhibition

by | May 22, 2013 | Other News

Sabrina Furlough chose to enter a painting rather than a work of prose or poetry in this year’s Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts competitions.

Yet, when asked to supply an artist’s statement with her piece, the Lynnhaven Middle School student welcomed the opportunity to write about her concept. Her statement reads:

My painting explains how even though the world seems happy and all the bad times are gone, darkness is always creeping. The horrible and sad moments are not gone, but they are always in the shadows. Countries might seem united, but they are always separated by war and heartache.

“I liked that we had to do a summary, because there’s a lot to this painting,” says Sabrina. “I tried not to do something too simple—I wanted to do something in depth that you had to think about when you looked at it, and I liked being able to explain that.”

Sabrina, along with dozens of other student artists, their families, friends, teachers, and community supporters, attended the opening reception on May 5 for the 2013 Elie Wiesel Visual Arts Competition winners and Judges’ Choice exhibit.

On display through May 31 in the Virginia Beach Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library’s Art Gallery and main library, the exhibit showcased 54 adjudicated student pieces. The Holocaust Commission received a record number of entries in the TowneBank-sponsored art competition this year—nearly 500 drawings, sketches, paintings, photographs, sculptures, textiles, videos and other multimedia creations.

“We saw a great balance this year between the submissions of artwork that dealt with historical issues that the Holocaust presents, and artwork in which students applied the lessons they learned from their Holocaust studies to moral decisions and actions and events in their everyday lives,” says Elena Barr Baum, director of the Holocaust Commission.

The exhibition’s pieces include the creations of students in middle and high schools, of all religious affiliations, ethnicities, and socioeconomic classes. The artwork reflects student responses to lessons they learned when studying the Holocaust, and their emotional and artistic interpretation of those lessons. Winners and honorable mentions were chosen by a panel of area artists, with the identity of the student artists hidden from the judges so any bias, preference, or possible familiarity with the entrant was removed.

Norview High School art teacher Jennifer McDuffie had two student winners in this year’s competition, and came to support them and the Holocaust Commission’s efforts at the opening reception.

“I think this is a great forum for this exhibit because a lot of people are going to see it, and it’s very eye catching,” she says.

“This project is way more than making artwork. It’s about having a message, too,” she emphasizes. “Whenever you can have young people look at what’s going on in the world and look at what’s important to them, it’s a win-win situation. The themes that you see here are intense: outer beauty and inner feelings, domestic violence, homelessness, the gang war in El Salvador. All are relevant today, but the artists are using the lessons of the Holocaust to find a means of expression.”

McDuffie believes the competition provides students—and herself—with ideas and knowledge that continue to affect their lives, and causes them to look at the world in a more thoughtful way.

“The lessons of the Holocaust don’t just end here,” she says. “This competition and its ideas give me a forum to use art as social commentary, for my students and for other teachers that I speak with, too. When I attended the National Art Education Association conference in New York, I talked about having my students enter this competition every year and how they connect with it—so the Holocaust Commission is helping me teach other teachers, all over the country, how to connect the lessons to their students, too.”

One of the entries in this year’s art competition was from a female student in California whose teacher had found the competition listed on the internet. Baum says she received a call from the girl’s mother who said her daughter was entering, and wanted to know how best to submit a piece.

“We’ve had writing entries from out of the area, but I never expected an out of town art entry,”

Baum says. “And she turned out to be one of the winners!” Baum says as the Holocaust Commission has evolved technologically, it put the Elie Wiesel competition guidelines and information packet online—intended to benefit local middle and high school teachers. In the past two years, though, others have found the information and the contests received out of town entries. Last year, a school in Midlothian, Va. participated. This year, 23 entries were submitted to the writing competition from a high school in Ohio. One was a winner and one was a finalist.

“This interest from areas far beyond Tidewater give us affirmation that what we do is recognized for the quality we’ve always known it to be—by people who don’t know us at all. That makes us even more committed to our work, and helps further the goals of the Holocaust Commission.”

More than 1,650 total entries were received in the 2013 Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions—a record number. Winning entries in the writing and arts categories can be viewed at

For more information about the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, visit To see more photos from the art reception, “Like” JewishNewsVa on Facebook.

by Laine Mednick Rutherford