Triumph: Portraits of Opposition offers a unique opportunity to experience 51 works by contemporary artist Jac Lahav, which use the medium of portraiture to examine systemic forces of oppression and opposition: dual elements of humanity present from the beginning of recorded time. Whether presenting itself in the shape of politics, slavery, mental distress, or violence, prejudice and oppression have and continue to cause trauma and wounds that can never fully heal. In spite of this, triumph and achievement are a common thread woven through the stories found in this exhibition, which is showing exclusively at The Saginaw Art Museum now through June 9th.
Jac Lahav is a relatively young artist, born in 1977, based out of New York City and best known for his series 48 Jews and The Great Americans, which have been shown at several notable museums through the United States.
According to Assistant Curator & Development Coordinator Natascha Williams, this will be the first time all three of Lahav’s series are on view together. “The three series include 48 Jews, Slaves, and The Great Americans, and this exhibition combines notable figures from many important moments in history; that have experienced oppression and have triumphed it in some way,” she explains.
“The exhibition asks viewers to consider who they may think of as an important historical figure, and how do the paintings challenge our preconceived notions of these figures and their historical identity? Who decides what a Great American is? Jac uses layers of paint and style to accomplish a myriad of themes in a single work. This urges viewers to question a figure’s true identity, what they stand for, and how they are perceived.”
Lahav’s portraits examine such often nebulous ideals such as identity, fact, and self-awareness, but in terms of how he manifests these ideals through his work is one of the pivotal qualities distinguishing him as an artist. “By standing in front of any of the works in this exhibition, you will ask yourself who and what am I really looking at? How has this artist constructed a truthful or dishonest representation of this figure? How does this representation reflect popular culture’s opinion on history?” reflects Natascha. “
“Jac layers his paint onto the canvas with a multitude of color and technique that results in somewhat disjointed portraits,” continues Natascha. “He creates faces that are like a blurred photograph in black and white, while placing a slash of creamy orange like a collar in a typical Dutch portrait. The portraits are overtly confusing because they really ask the viewer to reconsider the “truth” and “knowledge” they walked in with.”
Indeed, this quality is what makes his work and this exhibition so compelling. “The portraits in this exhibition are presented to us through the lens of Jac’s relationship with the subject matter. Jac was born in Jerusalem, Israel, but grew up on the east coast of the United States. He challenges constructed ideas about historical figures that have established America in some sort of way, which is one of the components that makes his work so powerful. For example, Jac references the television show The Greatest American, where Americans voted Oprah Winfrey, a talk show host, as one of the top ten greatest Americans… out-winning Jonas Salk, who developed the first successful polio vaccine”.
“Lahav reminds us to consider layers of meaning in which identity, biography, and myth have been combined by our culture,” notes Natascha. “In doing this, he asks us to reconsider what we see as fact about his subjects and apply this same thinking to our own surroundings as members of a collective culture. The challenges that Lahav presents can help us to better see the world through the eyes of our neighbors and come to be more empathetic and understanding toward each other. The exhibition provides a space for constructive conversations about how we can come together and foster growth, development, and a deeper sense of community.”
In addition to this main exhibition, several ancillary events will also be staged during the course of its run.
On Thursday, March 29 6:00 to 8:00 pm will be an AfterHours gathering with appetizers and refreshments that is open to the general public; and on Tuesday, April 10 5:00 - 6:00 pm there will be a Book Club discussion of Clifford’s Blues by John A. Williams. Family Day will happen Saturday, April 14 from 1:00 – 3:00 pm; and on Tuesday, May 8 from 5:00 – 6:00 pm Book Club will focus on the work titled Night by Elie Wiesel. Finally, at a date to be determined, Jac Lahav himself will return to the Saginaw Art Museum to give a lecture.
Coinciding with this exhibition will be an ancillary photographic exhibition titled Who We Are, which was conceived by former Associate Curator Sarah Trew and Lauren Grotkowski, Outreach and Education Manager, who worked together to create an exhibition that would localize many of the themes in Lahav’s work.
“Lahav’s work speaks to triumphs in the face of hardship; a theme prevalent in the history of Mid-Michigan, states Natascha. “While Mid-Michigan is currently experiencing a renaissance, we know our communities have experienced eras of growth followed by devastation. With many local individuals and institutions fostering our growth, a greater sense of pride and determination in our community has blossomed, leading to new and exciting offerings in the area. This exhibition seeks to tell the stories of our shared community, highlighting the importance of the individual and showcasing our shared history.”
“The Saginaw Art Museum connected with the community through various organizations’ events, including the Saginaw Warehouse Artist’s Guild, Saginaw Spirit Games, Saginaw Bay Youth Orchestra at the Temple, and Holidays in the Heart of the City. We hoped to learn more about peoples’ ideas about the Saginaw community. The exhibition features words such as, community, change, pride, roots, and home that were frequently used when describing Saginaw. The museum worked with photographers Thor Rasmussen, owner of THOR*topography, and Ashley and Ben Hoffman to take the photographs. The photographers spent one day with all of the individuals featured in the exhibition at SAM.”
The Saginaw Art Museum is located at 1126 N. Michigan Ave. in Saginaw. Museum Hours are Noon – 6 pm Tuesday – Saturday. Admission is only $5.00 for adults and students are $3.00. 15 and under are Free.
16th November, 2023