Exhibition opens to celebrate Ben Shahn’s artwork


Courtesy of “The World Through My Eyes: Celebrating the Legacy of Ben Shahn”

Christie Dix, Managing Editor

“It is the mission of art to remind man from time to time that he is human.” -Ben Shahn

The Ben Shahn Center at William Paterson University is celebrating its namesake with an exhibition of Shahn’s work, which was largely focused on social justice, politics, and Nazi Germany.

The exhibition, titled “The World Through My Eyes: Celebrating the Legacy of Ben Shahn,” includes the University’s own collection of his works, as well as pieces donated from private collections. The Shahn collection will be in the South Gallery until Dec. 13.

Upcoming events will accompany the exhibition to give further perspective and knowledge on Shahn’s work and life. Dr. Diana L. Linden, who has studied Shahn’s work for many years, will be giving a lecture on the topic of Ben Shahn’s murals for the Bronx Post Office.

The mural depicts Americans of different backgrounds in manual labor jobs, working together to build the American industry.

There will also be a documentary film screening of “Ben Shahn: Passion for Justice” on Nov. 12. All events will be held in the Ben Shahn Center on campus.

The exhibition is a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the gallery and the 50th anniversary of Ben Shahn’s death. Shahn was a social-realist artist that emerged in the 1930s. He was born in Lithuania and was a painter, photographer and print-maker. Shahn completed many projects that pushed for justice, for immigrants, minorities and refugees. 

Kristen Evangelista is the director of the gallery. “As our namesake, Ben Shahn has left an indelible mark on our institution and reminds us of the ongoing importance of civil rights, political and religious freedom, and democracy. His values resonate with the University’s core values,” Evangelista said.

One of the key works featured in the gallery is named, “This is Nazi Brutality” (1942), which depicts a hooded victim representing the Nazi’s destruction of a Czechoslovakian village. This work was published by the U.S. Office of War Information to raise awareness.

Another key work in the exhibition is a watercolor painting of a factory scene titled “Paterson” (1950). This piece was originally given to William Carlos Williams to accompany his multi-part poem about the city of Paterson.

Many of the displayed works are preliminary drawings that show Shahn’s process as an artist. Pencil drawings from his journals are displayed. Linden’s lecture will also focus on his process as an artist, highlighting how his preliminary cartoons for the Bronx mural morphed into the artwork that stands today.

The program accompanying the exhibit includes an essay by William Paterson Art professor, Dr. Alejandro Anreus. The essay gives an overview of Shahn’s career. Anreus also opened the exhibit with a lecture on arts and politics on Sept. 12.

The program also includes an introduction by Evangelista and an essay by Dr. Linden.

Many of the works were loaned to the gallery by Shahn’s family, New Jersey libraries and New Jersey Museums.