(WEST WINDSOR, NJ) -- A fall 2017 sabbatical for Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Visual Arts Professor Yevgeniy Fiks was far from a vacation, as it entailed a series of art shows covering three continents, with participation ranging from curator to featured artist.
“It was packed with projects – five exhibitions,” Fiks said.
One of those exhibitions, an in-depth look at a Jewish autonomous region in the former Soviet Union, will be the topic of an upcoming lecture at MCCC. Fiks will present “Reflections of Birobidzhan: Soviet Union’s Jewish Autonomous Region in Art,” on Tuesday, October 16 at noon in room 109 of the Communications Building on the West Windsor Campus. His talk is part of MCCC’s fall Distinguished Lecture Series, and is free and open to the public.
Fiks, a multidisciplinary Post-Soviet conceptual artist, will discuss the history of the creation of the Jewish autonomous region – including its capital city of Birobidzhan – in the Soviet Union in 1934 in the context of Soviet and Jewish histories. His presentation includes archival photographs documenting the first decade of the Soviet Jewish autonomous region in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as his own conceptual art projects that address the past and present of this unique region.
“It was created as this utopian, secular, Yiddish speaking area,” Fiks said. “I was very fascinated by the story of the region, read about it, researched it, and went there in September (2017).”
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Fiks said he continued to research the fascinating history of the region, which is located on the Chinese boarder within present-day Russia. His focus, he said, was centered around environmental influences on the development of a common identity for the residents.
“The key things I was interested in was the landscape of the region and how landscape is connected to a sense of national belonging,” Fiks said. “I was very interested in this area as a Jewish autonomous region. It was created from scratch. The question is, how do people relate physically to this area? How do you relate to your environment?”
Fiks did projects on landscapes, where he repainted stills from a Soviet propaganda movie made in the 1930s, with juxtaposition of text that unsettles the landscape.
“It’s supposed to be questioning. What is territory? Is it supposed to be neutral? Does territory have deep-rooted connections to the people?” Fiks said.
In addition to Birobidzhan, Fiks was involved in exhibitions in several other cities harboring unique cultures, including Kharkiv, Ukraine; Budapest, Hungary; New York City; Venice, Italy; and Mexico City. While one might think that an artist would be challenged to channel a creative muse that would cut across such diverse populations and create a unified message that would appeal to each art community, Fiks made it work with a simple theme: Contemplating the past while looking toward the future.
For more information on MCCC’s Distinguished Lecture Series, call (609) 570-3324 or visit www.mccc.edu/events.