Past forward

Past forward

Artist turns memories into paintings, sculpture

New Jersey artist Monica Camin, a former volunteer at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, returned in triumph for the unveiling of a one-woman exhibition of her paintings and sculpture at a reception on Sept. 30.

About 60 people turned out for the gala event, which also served as a sneak preview just days prior to the formal opening on Oct. 4. The show continues on display at the museum in Freehold through Dec. 30.

The works in the exhibit, “The Way I Lived It,” reflect incidents from the artist’s own life or those of her family members. At the same time, they offer a view of history, particularly the Jewish experience, of the past 100 years.

Passport, an oil on canvas and paper, is explicitly autobiographical. Arrayed around an actual passport are three multi-generational images — Camin’s grandfather in his World War I combat uniform; her mother, still living in Germany at age 11 or 12; and the artist herself at age two, holding onto her mother’s braids for support.

Camin’s grandfather, whose German ancestry went back some 40 generations, fought for his country in World War I, Camin told NJJN. During the war, he saved the life of one of his non-Jewish comrades. Years later, after the Nazi persecution had begun and even during the height of the Holocaust, the man he saved — who had become an SS officer — helped arrange for members of the family to escape from Germany. But, said Camin, because his rescuer was complicit in the deaths of hundreds of other Jews, Camin’s grandfather told family members that he had refused to thank him.

The artist’s parents immigrated to Buenos Aires, where Camin was born in 1949. She began her art education at 13, studying at the Paula A. Sarmiento and the Manuel Belgrano fine arts academies. She later took sculpture courses with Sidney Simon at the Art Students League of New York, and studied under Chaim Gross at the New School in New York.

Married in 1970, Camin went to live in Israel in 1971 and in 1980 came to the United States. She lived in Marlboro for 11 years before moving to Fair Haven in 2007. She and her husband, Carlos, have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren.

In the exhibit on display in the museum, Camin’s work is tinged with sadness but imbued with pride and hope. One painting, Wailing Wall, depicts tree trunks all cut off at about the same level, not one of them able to reach its potential — but all still standing.

In My Childhood Was So Colorful, a book published in 2011, Camin, an author and poet as well as an artist, writes that her work is “born of a strong inner need, without a previously thought out subject, and they blossom as I carry on with the painting. This process entails an enormous mental, spiritual, and emotional effort, but the conclusion of some works is an instant moment of complete satisfaction.”

Georgine Eberbright, the museum’s vice president and event coordinator, said that the Camin exhibition marks the first time that the museum has displayed sculpture alongside other works of art.

At the reception, Eberbright said the artist’s work clearly and creatively fulfills the museum’s mission to present programs that “explore and celebrate the rich and unique history of the Jewish residents of Monmouth County.”

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