Press Room

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August 9, 2004
Contact: Press & Media Relations Coordinator (703-993-8794)

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An exhibition of Oil Paintings, Watercolors and Drawings
In celebration of her memoir,
They’ll Have to Catch Me First: An Artist’s coming of Age in the Third Reich
Artist’s talk, September 20, 4:30-5:30 p.m. – Harris Theater
Reception 5:30-7:00 p.m.

Fairfax, Virginia, August 4, 2004Irene Awret came of age in post-World War I Berlin amidst the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party. While They’ll Have to Catch Me First – co-published in June 2004 by the University of Wisconsin Press and Dryad Press of Takoma Park, Maryland – is the story of her artistic development during this time, it is also emblematic of the fate of so many German Jewish families. Long assimilated and patriotic, they were subjected to degradation and slow strangulation, followed by flight or destruction. As part of its Gallery Program, George Mason University’s Center for the Arts presents Shimmering in the Dark, a showcase of Awret’s varied work in oil, watercolor and drawing as a retrospective celebrating the publication of this extraordinary memoir. The exhibition, in the university’s Johnson Center Gallery, opens on August 23. In conjunction with the Fall for the Book Literary Festival, the artist will speak about Shimmering in the Dark and They’ll Have to Catch Me First, at a talk in Harris Theater on September 20 at 4:30 p.m. A reception follows at 5:30 p.m.

In 1939, Awret was forced into hiding, then caught by the S.S. and jailed, destined for deportation to Auschwitz. Saved by a single sketch, Awret was assigned to the painters’ workshop in Mechelen, the little-known Gestapo camp that deported nearly 25,000 Jews to Auschwitz. Detained for a year and a half, Awret became one of the lucky few to be spared transport to the East. Assigned to paint the numbers that prisoners wore around their necks and linen armbands for other prisoner-workers, she also painted portraits for Nazi officers and sketched inmates and camp life. While many of her works disappeared, Awret was able to save some, as well as work by Lon Landau, Jacques Ochs and Azriel Awret, the
sculptor whom she later married.

Irene Awret is the author of Days of Honey: The Tunisian Boyhood of Rafael Uzan, winner of the first prize in the Janusz Korcak Competition. Known widely in Israel for her paintings and her ceramic sculptures, she has had numbers of solo shows in Israel and the United States. Selected exhibitions include one person show at Goldman Fine Arts, the JCC of Baltimore and JCC of Greater Philadelphia, installation of ceramic murals at elementary schools in Gaithersburg, Silver Spring and Germantown, and a one person show at the Ring Hall of the Washington Hebrew Congregation. While some of her drawings and paintings from the Mechelen transit camp have been published in books of Holocaust art, They’ll Have to Catch Me First gathers the largest collection of her work from the time she was imprisoned there. She and her sculptor husband Azriel Awret immigrated to Israel from Belgium in 1949 and helped found the Safad Artists Colony. Since 1968, they have lived in Fairfax, Virginia, and continue to exhibit their work in the United States and in Israel.

The Galleries are all located on Mason’s Fairfax campus. The Johnson Center Gallery is located on the main level of the George W. Johnson Center in the heart of the campus. The Fine Arts Gallery is located on the ground floor of the Fine Arts Building in room B104. The Mason Hall Gallery is on the ground floor of Mason Hall on Mason Pond Drive. Galleries are open Mon. through Thurs., from 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Fridays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., unless otherwise noted, and by appointment. For special accommodation, contact the Gallery Program Office: 703-993-8865. The Concert Hall Gallery is open Tuesday – Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Gallery Program is a division of Mason’s College of Visual and Performing Arts, home to the Center for the Arts. The College of Visual and Performing Arts exists to create an academic environment in which the arts may be considered both as individual disciplines and as interdisciplinary forms that strengthen each other. Believing that an education in the arts is deepened by regular contact with the work of distinguished visiting artists, the College draws on a variety of professional presenting and producing units where artists from across the country and around the world regularly perform, give master classes, work with students during extended residencies, and interact with the community in a variety of other ways. These programs at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, TheaterSpace, Galleries, Harris Theater, and other venues, provide a diverse selection of challenging and entertaining cultural experiences for the University community, as well as Northern Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C. area. The College houses four academic departments: Art and Visual Technology, Dance, Music and Theater.