01 February 2016

Artist Using Technology to Challenge Holocaust Denials

This article by James H. Burnett III appeared in The Miami Herald, Friday, Dec. 22, 2006.  Ten years have passed since I started this blogart project as a wake-up call to counter Iran's threats to wipe Israel off the map.  The dangers have increased as smiling Rouhani has replaced scary-faced Ahmadinejad to woo France and other European countries to embrace Iran's genocidal regime.     

When Mel Alexenberg heard that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted a Holocaust denial conference earlier this month in Tehran, he didn't know whether to laugh or cry. He settled quickly on the tears.

The news was frustrating and scary, said Alexenberg, former dean of visual arts at Miami Dade College's New World School of the Arts, because Ahmadinejad's rhetoric didn't seem to generate urgency or fear on a worldwide scale.

''No one took Hitler seriously at first, either,'' said Alexenberg, who lost dozens of relatives in concentration camps. "Just as Ahmadinejad has been allowed to speak at the United Nations, Hitler was also hosted by the League of Nations, and then he carried out his threats.''

Determined not to let Ahmadinejad's threats to destroy Israel and his denial of the Holocaust go unchallenged, Alexenberg decided he would fight back with a weapon familiar to him: art.

After all, Pablo Picasso ''fought'' the Nazis with paintings of Guernica, Spain, after the German ruler had the Basque city bombed in what some called a test run for World War II air assaults. And Francisco José de Goya painted scenes of the Spanish uprising against Napoleon Bonaparte's invading forces in the 1800s.

''I thought I would use new technology as a form of art itself, and launch a blog,'' he said.

Alexenberg, who moved to Israel six years ago to teach art and Jewish thought at the University of Judea and Samaria in Ariel, recently started the Future Holocaust Memorials blog (http://www.futureholocaustmemorials.blogspot.com/).

''Before I moved to Miami even, in the 1980s, I was at MIT, at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies,'' Alexenberg said. "So I've worked with high technology as art for many years.''

Known for his use of new media to make postmodern Jewish thought-inspired art, Alexenberg exhibited Cyberangels: Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East in 2004 at the Jewish Museum in Prague, Czech Republic, where visitors were able to use computer stations to send angel images over the Internet as peaceful gestures to various world leaders.

Should anyone scoff at the idea of a blog as art, they should know that Alexenberg is a conceptual artist who regularly uses the Internet, said Kenneth Treister, an artist and retired architect who designed the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial.

''Mel doesn't do decorative paintings,'' Treister said. "He is one of the world's foremost authorities on visual art through new media. And this site is a way for him to describe a possible future, to warn that if people don't wake up to the similarities, another Holocaust could really happen.''

Avi Mizrachi, executive director of the Miami Beach Holocaust Memorial, applauded Alexenberg's new project.  ''The tools of the 1940s are not the same as the tools of today,'' Mizrachi said. "All of us now are hooked and connected to our gadgets in some way. So if it takes the Internet to educate people about the Holocaust and inform them of what people like the Iranian president are saying about the future, that is good.''

Sheikh Abdul Hadi Palazzi, director of the Cultural Institute of the Italian Islamic Community and secretary general of the Italian Muslim Assembly, wrote to Alexenberg that he appreciated the blog initiative.

"Many of those politicians who repeat days and nights, "We will never permit a new Holocaust to happen, are doing virtually nothing to stop Ahmadinejad and the danger he represents,'' Palazzi wrote. "We need to remember that plans for a Holocaust are, unfortunately, not limited to the past.''

Alexenberg is calling on Jews worldwide to contribute to the Future Holocaust Memorials project by starting their own blogs and linking to his site so they can create a blogging network of uploaded letters and photographs of Holocaust survivors, as well as other relatives killed by the Nazis.

''Art doesn't have to be on a canvas or as a sculpture,'' Alexenberg said. "This technology provides us with a bigger forum and audience than any museum ever could.''

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