Artistic inspiration doesn’t traditionally come from a place of absence. Still, the nearly 50 artists donating works as part of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) centenary anniversary campaign are having no difficulty creating out of a concept centered around the word “without.”
Of course, the subject of “ArtWorks ADL: Justice, Advocacy & Art” is anything but a void. The centenary theme “Imagine a World Without Hate” opens a universe of creative possibilities, as a number of the participating artists will attest.
“I’m very interested in projects that look at diversity and human rights themes, as well,” Kenturah Davis said. “It all came about very organically.”
“When I came to Los Angeles as a teenager, I didn’t understand what freedom was,” added Zhenya Gershman, who was born in Russia. “For me, the subject of a world without hate, a world where differences are celebrated, is my life’s mission in a way.”
Davis and Gershman — both painters — are joining a lineup of sculptors, photographers, muralists and mixed-media artists whose work will be briefly displayed and then auctioned off at the ArtWorks gala to be held Sept. 17 at the home of collectors Jeanne and Tony Pritzker. All proceeds will benefit the ADL. Philanthropist and art collector Eli Broad is the evening’s honorary chair.
The participating artists are of all genders, ages, faiths and religions, united only by their ties to the Los Angeles community and by the theme. However, coordinating this many people — this much creative spirit — for a single night and in the interest of a single goal, has been a logistical feat, according to event curator Caspar Martin.
“It has been a yearlong process,” said Martin, director of Hinge Modern, a gallery in Culver City. “Artists have different speeds at which they work and very different work habits. It can be very complicated. The art world is a global business, but the criteria of having everyone be represented by a gallery in Los Angeles helped focus it a little bit. Once we came up with our list, everyone we approached agreed to participates, which was wonderful and which made it a lot easier.”
L.A. ArtWorks follows the inaugural campaign that took place in New York in June, although according to Martin and Diane Lazar, ADL director of major gifts, the Los Angeles effort is “more of a major donor event” than its East Coast predecessor. “We’ve sort of super-sized it,” Lazar said. “We wanted a range of both established artists and emerging artists.”
To that end, works include everything from the bright patchwork sunflower adorning the campaign’s street banners created by David Cooley to the pop style of Gary Baseman (subject of a recent Skirball Cultural Center exhibition) to Lily, the superhero of the mural created by the German graffiti artists known as Herakut.
Some of the artists donated already existing works that fit the theme. Others made new works.
“Most of them came up with something great, and very quickly,” Martin said. “That really speaks to the mission of the ADL. The theme this year is something that really speaks strongly to a lot of artists. A lot of them have come from backgrounds where they have had to struggle. Many are not socially gregarious people and they struggle with a sense of being outsiders. So they usually have a very interesting perspective on ‘Imagine a World Without Hate.’ ”
Gershman is a prime example. As a little girl in Moscow, Gershman remembers receiving a Star of David to wear around her neck and then immediately being told “but you can’t wear it outside. You have to tuck it into your clothes.” Several years later, as a teenager newly arrived in West Los Angeles, she looked up at one of the central buildings at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and saw that same Star of David blazing proudly.
“My immediate realization was that we had made a journey from a place where you had to hide to a place where you can celebrate your identity,” Gershman said.
The painting she has donated to the ADL campaign, “Pervoie Sentebria,” was inspired by an old family photograph. For it, Gershman draws on her experience as a young child who felt like an outsider on her first day of school. Preparing to leave the safety of her family and move into an uncertain world, the girl stands awkwardly and fidgeting, on the side of the image.
“I’m holding on to my dress looking out into the world, where the viewer would be standing,” she said. “I’m asking, ‘Is the world safe? Am I OK?’ ”
The painting has additional reverberations for Gershman, who recently sent her own 5-year-old daughter, Nikka, out into an equally uncertain world on Nikka’s first day of school.
“I used the photo as a trigger for memory, and now I’m carrying the story forward,” she said. “A person may be touched by it, [or] have it trigger a memory for them, and carry it forward themselves.”
Davis’ painting drew its inspiration from the 1963 bombings of the 16th Street Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four young girls. Davis recalled watching the Spike Lee-directed documentary “4 Little Girls” and being touched by one of the victim’s mothers saying it is important to “get past the hate.”
“So when I heard about this project, I thought it would be the perfect subject to return to,” Davis said.
Although Davis and Gershman, like the majority of the artists, clicked quickly with the theme and the request for work, a few hit a wall. According to Martin, there is one additional significant artist, not ytet on the ADL list of contributing artists, who will be donating.
“But he’s struggling,” Martin said. “It will be a great story,” he promised, “but I can’t share it.”
For more information about the Sept. 17 ArtWorks gala, visit adl.org/ArtWorksLA.
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