If you are looking for some exposure to terrific works of art, look no further than the Fairfield University Art Museum. The museum is currently host to “In Real Time–Arthur Szyk: Artist and Soldier for Human Rights” an exhibition of political cartoons and images from Arthur Szyk that demonstrate and honor democratic ideals.
An acclaimed Polish Jewish miniaturist and political cartoonist, Szyk’s work has appeared on the covers of magazines such as “Time” and “Collier”. Witnessing the rise of totalitarianism in Europe with the start of World War II, Szyk emigrated from London to the U.S., where he lived and worked in New Canaan, Conn.
His work addresses issues of racial equality, human dignity and religious tolerance, and he became one of the U.S.’s most highly celebrated political artists as his work helped to sway public opinion against Nazism and facism, and toward American support of European Jews during the war.
Consisting of over 60 pieces of Szyk’s work, this exhibition in the Fairfield Art Museum can be utilized as a platform to promote conversations of racial equity, human rights and social justice, as we still experience structural racism and other social issues in our communities today.
I was fortunate enough to visit this exhibition in the Bellarmine Hall Galleries and experience Szyk’s brilliant and political work for myself. As I walked through the gallery, I was immediately struck by the bold titles that were presented above collections of Szyk’s work. Some of these headings included “The Right to Resist,” “The Right to Nationhood,” “The Right to Expose Tyrants ‘at Work,’” “The Right to America” and more.
Each political cartoon displayed underneath was a representation of the title above. And though each headline highlights individual facets of Szyk’s work, they all have one thing in common: The “right” to something. Szyk’s political cartoons are heavily focused on human rights, the rights that we are all entitled to as human beings, no matter our race, religion, gender, etc. Therefore, I found it fitting that each headline in this exhibition groups his work together in the gallery in such a manner that stresses the importance of our “rights”.
With so many pieces of Szyk’s work displayed in this exhibition, it is hard to pick just a few that really stand out from the rest, but when I first entered the gallery, I was drawn to a wall, painted green and covered in an array of the political cartoons. One, in particular, that caught my eye was “Madness,” crafted from watercolor, gouache, ink on paper and graphite.
A description of this piece found on Fairfield University Art Museum’s website, explains that “In this cartoon, published on the cover of Collier’s, Nazi leaders Adolf Hitler (1889- 1945), Hermann Göring (1893-1946), Heinrich Himmler (1900-1945) and Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945) stand together, pinning Nazi flags on a globe threatened by a Nazi rattlesnake. At their feet lay collaborators Philippe Pétain (1856-1951) and Benito Mussolini (1883-1945).”
Many of the other political cartoons along this wall depicted Hitler, Mussolini and other Nazi leaders towering above a world map, above crosses and graves, above puppets that they hold tightly on strings. The proportions of the art were what I found to be intriguing about this work, and what I found to be a demonstration of the oppression and dictatorship present at the time of the Second World War.
This is an exhibition that needs to be examined with time and precision, as there are so many incredible political cartoons and works of art. I, myself, could have spent hours examining and reading about each individual piece.
I recommend that students truly block out some time from their busy schedules, so they can truly appreciate all Skyz’s work has to offer. Students can also experience this art in the Walsh Gallery as an interactive experience.
The Art Museum’s website explains that this gallery features “two workstations that will enable visitors to explore Szyk’s miniatures in high resolution, reconstructing the artist’s gaze through a “digital magnifying glass.” It continues, “Visitors will be able to remix and repurpose individual elements, characters and motifs drawn from the works in the exhibition, to create new cartoons that will be instantly ‘published’ as projections on large wall surfaces in the gallery itself and online, giving the contemporary exploration and reinterpretations of Szyk’s art a broad audience in real-time.” This is such a unique opportunity that students should take the time to check out if they find themselves drawn to Szyk’s work.
At Fairfield, we are fortunate enough to have a museum of art right on campus. So take advantage of this close proximity to some amazing art and check out “In Real Time–Arthur Szyk: Artist and Soldier for Human Rights” in the Bellarmine or Walsh Galleries before it is gone. Students can also experience this exhibition via the “Virtual Tour” on the Fairfield University Art Museum’s website. It will be exhibited in the Bellarmine and Walsh Galleries until Dec. 16, 2023.