Coming to Grips with the Holocaust in “The Reader” ~ M. Blaha

Coming to Grips with the Holocaust in The Reader
By M. BlahaI recently read Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader and watched the film adaptation directed by Stephen Daldry, and I found myself as conflicted as the main character and narrator, Michael Berg. The book offers more insight than the film because, since the story is told in first person narrative, it allows direct access to Michael’s thoughts. The movie certainly provokes the viewer to sympathize with Hanna when she is on trial and throughout the duration of her prison sentence. It does an excellent job of convincing the viewer that Hanna is the victim of uncontrollable circumstances that forced her into her position as an SS guard of a satellite camp of Auschwitz, but, unlike the novel, I think the film fails to properly convey the struggle Michael has in trying to understand her crime, while simultaneously having to condemn it. Hanna and a group of women stand trial for allowing three-hundred Jewish women to burn to death in a locked church that was bombed during the camp’s evacuation, even though these Jewish women were placed under their care and protection. In the novel, Michael clearly states that in trying to understand Hanna’s crime he is humanizing her actions, and making it impossible to condemn her crime. Perhaps Hanna does not deserve Michael’s understanding. Maybe condemning a crime leaves no room for understanding.

The courtroom scene has the most emphasis in both the novel and film, as it spotlights the question Hanna asks the judge during the trial, “What would you have done?” Hanna wants to know what she could have done differently. This question is very important when discussing the Holocaust and convicting those guilty of Nazi War Crimes. “What would you have done?” It’s easy to blame Hanna without considering the context of her situation, “Hanna had not decided in favor of crime. She had decided against a promotion at Siemens, and fell into a job as a guard.” Hanna does not wake up one morning and decide to work in a Nazi concentration camp, containing women like animals as they await transport to their deaths. She only decides against a promotion and finds another job to support herself. Hanna’s decisions are all made for her own sake.

Most of our decisions are made for us, our families, and for the good of the people we know and love without thinking about how they affect other people. Humans are not capable of looking beyond their immediate relationships, unless they have a position that requires them to make decisions to benefit more people than themselves and the people they know directly. I recently watched a repeat episode of Law and Order: SVU that is an interesting example of how a decision a single member of a community makes, takes a heavy toll on the lives of other people in the area.

A little girl dies from contracting the measles because she is too young to receive the vaccination to protect her from the disease, which forces the SVU to search for the source of a possible measles epidemic. The source of the measles chain is a little boy old enough to receive the vaccination, but does not because his mother believes his natural immune system is strong enough to fight off the infection, which it does. The boy’s mother does not think her decision concerns anyone outside of her own family. Her research on vaccinations and the power the body has against fighting disease are the only things that inform her decision. Since her son’s immune system is able to fight the disease, she does not consider herself responsible for the death of the little girl; she is just trying to be a “good” mother to her son. The woman is arrested for the murder of the little girl. The episode shows that while the woman’s decision was best for her family, it was detrimental to society at large. We have privacy and freedom of choice, but there are certain rules that help society function, and if these rules are disobeyed, society will crumble. Her decision would be applicable in a small, sprawling area where the lives of people are more private, but not a densely populated area like New York City.

The Reader is concerned with whether one person knows what is best for another person. Is the law or the community at large able to define what is good for its individuals? Michael has information that can serve to give Hanna a lesser sentence, and disprove accusations the other women on trial blame her for. Michael knows Hanna is illiterate, and that to reveal this would be exposing a life-long secret she goes to great lengths to hide. Hanna simply accepts the accusations the other women make, because defending herself would force her to face the humiliation of her secret. Hanna’s illiteracy affects her entire life. She refuses the offer of a promotion at Siemens because she cannot read, and accepts a position as a guard where she chose prisoners to read to her “because she wanted to make their last month bearable before their inevitable dispatch to Auschwitz.” At the trial, Hanna is too concerned with keeping her illiteracy secret that she does not consider what it means to be exposed as a criminal.

Since Michael knows Hanna’s secret, he wonders if he has a responsibility to share this information with the judge.  Hanna does not try to defend herself, and she says things that constantly infuriate the judge, which compels Michael to want to help her; he wants to help the judge understand Hanna’s behavior, and, also, justify her behavior for himself.

In the novel, Michael’s father, who is a philosopher and lawyer, tells him that Hanna’s freedom and dignity must be considered in the situation, and he poses this question, “don’t you remember how furious you would get as a little boy when mamma knew better what was good for you? Even how far one can act like this with children is a real problem.” The movie does not emphasize this point as much as the book, but this question is important to keep in mind when considering Michael’s inner conflict. A person cannot place what other people say is good for them above their own ideas of what is good for themselves because, as the father puts it, “it was no comfort to you [Michael] that your mother was always right.” In order for Michael to help Hanna, he has to address her about the matter and allow her to decide what she believes is best. Hanna needs to have “the last word;” doing it any other way would deprive her of her freedom and dignity, without giving her some promise of a future.

The movie focuses on Michael’s need to understand Hanna’s actions, and his struggle to come to terms with her crime because he loves her. The novel weaves Michael’s inner conflict into the struggle of subsequent generations trying to make peace with Germany’s Nazi past and the Holocaust.  Michael’s generation is exposed to films and literature about the concentration camps to the point that it is no longer a subject beyond imagination. Michael and other young people cannot rely on past generations to provide them with answers about Nazi atrocities, because their parents either committed Nazi crimes or watched them happen.

Coming to grips with a Nazi past was not just a generational conflict, because the children of the second generation, portrayed in The Reade,r did not know whether condemning their parents was enough. They would punish the guilty, but would continue to be “silenced by revulsion, shame and guilt.”

This generation needed to know how man could practice such cruelty toward other men, and, most importantly, how any group of people could choose to become victims without fighting back. In the novel, Michael ventures to the site of a concentration camp to experience it firsthand. He meets a man while hitchhiking, who explains that executioners do not hate the people they execute; execution just happens to be their line of work. The people that hated the Jews never directly killed them, but devised a plan that distanced them from the mass execution of the people they despised. The people who carried out the physical part of the extermination were indifferent toward the Jews, which made murdering them easier; it’s easy to discard something you have no emotional attachment to. The Jews, to the executioners, were a matter of such indifference that they could “kill them as easily as not.” It is numbness. Literature I have read about the perpetrators of Nazi crimes describes how difficult killing was at first, but after doing it over and over again, mass execution was all in a day’s work. This “numbness” is somewhat akin to the numbness that pervades the literature and other accounts of concentration camp survivors. A prisoner in Auschwitz who manages to survive for several months becomes accustomed to seeing death, and to doing whatever it takes to survive. Prisoners of the concentration camps began to exhibit selfish and indifferent behavior to the other inmates. However, prisoners of Nazi concentration camps were stripped of their humanity, and so their actions and behaviors became animalistic; morals cannot be applied to the victims of Nazi atrocities.

Perhaps we cannot judge people’s actions without considering their circumstances, but should a person’s circumstances make a difference in how we judge her behavior? It does not make a person’s actions any better or worse. Behavior is an independent faculty. It is influenced by circumstance and other social factors, but in the end, it needs to be judged separately. The law is designed to punish actions. The novel states that behavior has its own sources and is a person’s own, just as a person’s thoughts and decisions are her own.

The novel and film adaptation of The Reader, both question whether “law” is something that is actually written and obeyed, or whether it is something that “must be” obeyed – written or not – in order for society to function. So, what is law?


Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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A Poem by Amy Lynn Ruth

blackest canopies over this longing suburban town and also the very night time shade of navy where unsinkable ships have glided with coy buoyancy into silence I just think it’s wild how evanescent is a smile have you ever felt depersonalization after a couple too many hits nah, man I’m good over here but these cans don’t taste the same when we were fifteen and grasping grappling with key locks pushed up against this couch back unzipped and pressing teaching sweet first loves and lasts that I swore to her would never fade away well, we’re back in town again and her new boyfriend awkwardly stands in the kitchen corner tracing chaser circles on the counter he’ll tell you the government’s been stealing from our essence earth pretending it’s for some greater good and we don’t have the slightest of clues what goes on out there but hey, man I’m just trying to have a good time don’t even bring up time tonight.

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Alfa Art Gallery’s New Brunswick Salon ~ Call for Artists

New Brunswick Art Salon, Fall 2011 – Call for Artists

About the Exhibition

In the 18th and 19th century, Art Salons were the greatest annual or biannual art events in the Western world, celebrating the farthest advances in academia and the arts. The Alfa Art Gallery, in order to bridge talented and highly esteemed artists with the New Brunswick public, holds its own Art Salon exhibition biannually in the spring and fall.

Call for Entries

The Alfa Art Gallery would like to invite artists to submit work for the New Brunswick Art Salon, Fall ’11. There are two artist categories: newly emerging artists and professional artists. All submissions must be in by September 25. Artists will be notified if their work is accepted by September 30. The exhibition opening will be held on Friday, October 21.


For this exhibition, artists must submit works celebrating diversity or unity in a community.

Submission Requirements

All applicants must be associated with New Brunswick as a resident or as an artist who exhibits in New Jersey. Students and faculty members of Rutgers University and neighboring schools may enter. You must at least be pursuing an undergraduate career to participate. Degree does not need to be related to art.  There is no limit to the number of works entered.

To enter for consideration, please email the following to

  • Images with title/dimensions
  • Resume/CV
  • Statement about your work
Or contact:
Jewel Lim, Event coordinator,

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Alfa Art Gallery ~ 2011 Spring Art Salon

New Brunswick Art Salon, Spring 2011: Part I

Exhibition duration: April 22 – May 12, 2011
Opening Reception: Friday, April 22  @ 6:30-10:30pm
Jewel Lim
Multiciplinary Event: The New World Order

The Alfa Art Gallery is proud to present “The Double-Edged Search for the Truth & the Ideal,” the first of two spring exhibitions of the New Brunswick Art Salon 2011.

About  Alfa’s New Brunswick Art Salon

In the 18th and 19th century, Art Salons were the greatest annual or biannual art events in the Western world, celebrating the farthest advances in academia and the arts. The Alfa Art Gallery, in order to bridge talented and highly esteemed artists with the New Brunswick public, holds its own Art Salon exhibitions biannually in the Spring and Fall.

About this Exhibition

This exhibition “The Double-Edged Search for the Truth & the Ideal” features Carlos Frias, Dara Alter, Peter Arakawa and Rita Herzfeld, four talented painters from different backgrounds.  True to its title, this first part of the spring exhibitions for the New Brunswick Art Salon 2011 explores the individual’s search for the truth and the ideal in a larger community. The colors of the paintings in this collection are optimistic and vibrant; however, each piece contains an underlying narrative of the struggle to attain knowledge or to illustrate a desire in the bigger scheme of Life. Dara Alter creates multi-perspective, aerial landscapes without a fixed viewpoint as a response to her yearning for an ideal Israel. Peter Arakawa paints his works in only clusters of twos or threes in an attempt to avoid repetition: his works, created from observations of daily life, serve as voyages, combining patterns and shapes that are unlikely together, in search for an order that fits. In his paintings, Carlos Frias, with his intriguing Kandinsky-like palette, attempts to analyze and capture the essence of human beings as organic and spiritual forms with their ability to grow and self-destruct. Rita Herzfeld, acting and reacting in a cycle to each step in her creative process, attacks her canvases with ardent, moving paint strokes to actively demonstrate the gap and interactions between instinct, ideas, self-exploration and, ultimately, truth in a stilled image.

About the Artists

Carlos Frias received his BFA in Painting from the Parsons School of Design. His recent works aims to highlight our humanity , creativity, relationships and  urges to grow and self-destruct while, at the same time, strip us of our spirituality and culture, representing humans as organic forms bound to decompose and regenerate. Additionally, his work visually demonstrates the parallel between what art is able to represent of the evolution of humankind and how much we want to preserve and manipulate art to represent the history of our species. He has exhibited in Japan, the Dominican Republic, Spain, and the United States.

Dara Alter obtained her degree in Studio Art from the University of Guelph.  Heavily influenced by her cultural ties, she paints her memories of Israel in order to examine the North American Jewish nostalgia for an idealized nation.  In the last five years, she travelled to South America, North America, Asia, and the Middle East, which additionally influenced her works. Alter is most interested exploring location and place as it relates to her personal experiences and uses a specific palette that corresponds to the scenery in a particular region. She has exhibited in Minnesota, New York and New Jersey in the United States as well as in Toronto, Ontario in Canada.

Peter Arakawa obtained his MFA from Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University. He became an artist through the influences of creative family members.  Arakawa has been a professional artist for over twenty-five years. His works are held in many institutions and museums, including the Zimmerli Art Museum, Newark Public Library, Jersey City Museum, the State Museum, Hunterdon Art Museum and Johnson & Johnson Corporation.

Rita Herzfeld attended the School of Visual Arts and City College of N.Y. and obtained her BA from Rutgers University.  Inspired by her artistic mother, Herzfeld became an artist who grew up believing in the power that comes with creation and its processes from simple tools such as pencil and paper. Her works are held in the Hurterdon Museum of Art, the Zimmerli Art Museum and various private collections.

Best Artists of New Brunswick Art Salon’ 2010

First Place: Wes Sherman
Second Place: Marsha Goldberg
Third Place: Larry McKim

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Drop Everything and Read This: Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud ~ Raj Venkata

There are people out there who know more about the Marvel and DC Universes than I ever will. People who can name every single Lantern Corps and at least three prominent members of each. People who know that Booster Gold has done more for the multiverse than Batman ever will, and can tell you in excruciating detail why and how.

I can hold my own, of course: I can name all five Robins and give respectable arguments for my favorites. If you name a Marvel hero I could probably name which side of the Registration Act issue he or she fell on. Maybe the most convincing proof I can offer that I’m a True Believer is the fact that I actually envy the people who know more than me.

One might wonder why anyone would envy such a dubious accomplishment. The answer is simple: because Marvel and DC are comic books and comic books are Marvel and DC. No matter what my relationship is with the medium, no matter how long it’s been a part of my life, no matter how much I can tell you about indie authors like Craig Thompson or Marjane Satrapi, there is a certain and very odd kind of street cred carried by the people who know the chemical difference between adamantium and vibranium.

It’s telling that the spandex-clad cliches of the old guard still define the medium of the graphic novel to the extent they do. Mention the term ‘comic books’ and what comes to peoples’ minds are tights-wearing superheroes, campy dialogue and the casual use of that questionable term, ‘multiverse’. Assumptions like these are certainly less true than ever these days; more and more, titles that were avant-garde obscurities twenty years ago are being recognized as works of popular literature now, perhaps even as classics.

Still, it’s hard to see what made these works so avant-garde in the first place. Read Will Eisner’s A Contract with God and its sequels (together composing an autobiographical epic history of a fictional row of tenement buildings in Depression era New York) and it’s hard to tell what made this story so revolutionary. For all its brilliance, it doesn’t drift that far away from the conventions of traditional artwork or storytelling.

Alan Moore’s Watchmen seems a little closer to revolutionary, but even two decades has been enough to dull its edge substantially. Movies like “The Dark Knight” have made it easy for us to believe that a superhero story can be real art. Twenty years ago, this wasn’t a fact to be taken for granted.

We can, of course, ask ourselves the mostly-rhetorical question of what exactly made these books so unconventional and world-shaking back in their own day. But we know, don’t we? What made them so remarkable was their suggestion that a comic book can tell a story for grown ups. That the medium might produce storytellers who could, a hundred years from now, be mentioned in the same breath as Woolf and Ibsen and Dickens and Dumas.

But I digress. All of this is just a really roundabout way of segueing into my main point:

Scott McCloud is a motherfracking genius who can destroy you with his mind. Bow before him, for you live only because he continues to permit it.


I’ve had a relationship with comic books as long as I can remember. I’ve read plenty of prose adaptations of theRamayana and the Mahabharata- the great Indian epics- but as odd as it is to admit, most of what I know about the oldest stories of my culture (and the world) originally comes from the Amar Chitra Katha line of comic books: a series that retells Indian myths, folk tales, scriptural stories and historical anecdotes. Then, after coming to the States, I was constantly reading the Big Two as well as a wide variety of indie titles. But I always read them as a distraction- as a break from the all-important work of stuffing my brain with prose fiction. As much as I would defend to the death, even in my early teens, such masterpieces as Craig Thompson’s Blankets or Neil Gaiman’sSandman series, I always thought of comic books as a sort of poor man’s cinema, a way of combining narrative storytelling with visual art and doing so without a multimillion dollar budget.

Scott McCloud completely changed my mind.

Understanding Comics, somewhat self-referentially, is itself a comic book- an incredible literary feat in its own right. Imagine taking the most complicated paper you wrote as an undergrad on literary theory or any other appropriately abstract subject, then expanding it to a couple hundred pages. Now try taking half of the text you wrote, and drawing it. The man wrote a book-length essay about literary theory in comic book form. And he made it fun to read. That’s all I need to know to be convinced I don’t want to run into him in a dark alley. The being that can communicate a complex literary theory using pictures is not one whom I want to look upon lightly, lest his pandimensional Lovecraftian visage drive me mad.

McCloud divides the book into history, technique and theory. While the sections on history and technique are a fascinating read (not to mention mandatory for anyone with aspirations in the medium) it’s the ideas that really make this book shine. If Understanding Comics is standard material in nearly every college class about sequential graphic narrative, it’s because of McCloud’s dazzling exposition of the fundamental building blocks of comic books. These are the sort of ideas, like Copernicus’ heliocentric solar system or Whitman’s use of unrhymed verse, that are brilliant mainly because they seem obvious when you look back. I don’t want to give too much away, especially since you can’t do the ideas justice without the art, but here is a broad sweep of two of the most important ideas in the book:

1) One of McCloud’s most interesting arguments is that there’s no sharp division between words and pictures, since it’s impossible to pinpoint when pictures turn into symbols and iconography, and where symbols in turn become written language. The book illustrates the point with an impressive diagram containing sample illustrations from great comic books of the past century, with one end of the continuum containing the relatively realistic illustrations of Jack Kirby or Bob Kane, and the other end containing… well, words, but also the more representational and non-realistic artwork of Charles Schulz’ Peanuts or Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes.

2) Another argument McCloud makes is that comic books have about as much in common with the prose novel as they do with film and television, since audience participation is an essential part of the experience. Unlike film, where the events of the story are conveyed to the viewer almost entirely through external stimuli (since the viewer is given a window into the story as it unfolds on the movie screen) and the prose novel, where the portrayal of the events happen in the reader’s mind and depend entirely on his or her imagination, the graphic novel gives us a type of work that falls between the two. With comic books, the reader sees the events happen a panel at a time, but it’s entirely up to him to connect the dots and form a cohesive image of the fictional world being presented. McCloud refers to the process of filling the gap between panels as ‘closure’, and provides a list of different kinds of panel transitions, such as the moment-to-moment transition (where two adjacent panels are connected by a progression in time) or the aspect-to-aspect transition (where panels show the reader different parts of the same scene). More than any of the other chapters, this one convinced me that comic books are a unique medium with a more than incidental place in the culture.

Understanding Comics is almost twenty years old and quite a classic in its own right by now. Scott McCloud’s ideas have made me drastically re-evaluate the way I perceive comic books as a narrative form. I have a deeper respect now, both for the so-called commercial schlock of Lee, Kirby, Siegel, Shuster and the like- who had more of true art in their work than conventional wisdom gives them credit for- as well as the creators who dared to explore the limits and boundaries of an ostracized medium back when so few would, people like Will Eisner, Osamu Tezuka and Alan Moore. Understanding Comics has taken me from thinking of comics as a niche medium to leaving me with the suspicion that they may well be for the 21st century what the prose novel was for the 19th.

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Iron & Wine’s Walking Far From Home ~ A Review by Megan Rusciano

 fell in love with Sam Beam (the voice behind Iron & Wine), his guitar, his ginger locks, and his trademark beard in high school. But 2007’s The Shepherd’s Dog’s shifted away from acoustics towards a more country/ folk-rock feel. This left me wondering where Sam Beam’s poignant guitar rifts had gone. I wanted to go back to the drifting melodies that rocked ever so slightly by Beam’s hushed voice. So, I had my doubts when it came to Iron & Wine’s new EP: Walking Far From Home.

Walking Far From Home gives us a taste of where Iron & Wine will head in their upcoming album, Kiss Each Other Clean, set to be released in January ‘11. From the glimpse provided by the EP, it appears that the album will not be a return to the older Iron and Wine that I believe many of us, myself included, initially fell in love with. But for those who were dissatisfied with ‘07’s The Shepherd’s Dog, this EP represents a divergence from Beam’s earlier work. The EP moves away from a country and acoustic sound to confront an interesting musical juxtaposition: Beam’s rustic voice situated within an electronic and jazz setting. By doing so, the album stands upon a musical threshold, straddling a number of genres–each song acting to illuminate Beam’s versatility.

The opening track “Walking Far From Home” (the only track that will actually appear on the new LP) gives the initial impression that Iron & Wine has gone electronic. The song, however, is driven by a composite of piano, the consistent beat of a snare, and Sam Beam’s slightly distorted voice. It invokes a repetition both in lyric, tempo, and melody that is reminiscent of Iron & Wine’s well-known track “The Trapeze Swinger”. The subtle use of piano acts to reinforce the profundity of Beam’s lyrics. This accentuates the track’s transcendent quality that displaces me, the listener, if I let myself wander with it. The ending almost seems to mirror the conclusion of a Sigur Ros song: subtle, whispered voices that are slightly indistinct.

But it’s a quick transition into the next track: “Summer in Savannah”, a song that blares jazz from the start. Filled with amazing syncopation and a fantastic horn solo about 2 minutes in, the song ends in a wonderful climax of utter jazz. Sam Beam’s voice seems somewhat misplaced in a sea of horns, but here emerges his versatility. The contrast between his voice and the jazz disrupts the distinctions of typical musical genres illustrating that Beam can move beyond folk and folk-rock labels.

The final track “Biting Your Tail” initially sounds like something out of the new Sufjan Stevens album or perhaps The Postal Service’s Give Up. It gives off an electronic feel with a synthesizer and a cyclical rhythm. However, it is supplemented with profound lyrics: an Iron & Wine staple. Indeed, “Walking Far From Home” and “Biting Your Tail” stand out with verses that I find myself repeating under my breath in an attempt to further encapsulate their warmth and insight.

If avid fans are expecting a return to the older Iron & Wine, they may be unimpressed with this EP and perhaps the upcoming album. But if they set their expectations aside, they will realize like myself that Sam Beam does not disappoint. Instead, he proves that he can move beyond acoustics and find innovative ways to make music. People should give this EP another listen if they don’t enjoy it at first: it is well worth the second chance.

At the end of “Biting Your Tail”, Beam advises “May your words be well worth stealing/ Put your hands on your heart when singing”. I believe that he follows this advice quite well in this new EP. Evocative of the Iron & Wine I fell in love with, Walking Far From Home sets me adrift within Beam’s passion. But instead of using a guitar, Beam has found new avenues through which to express his reverent melodies.

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Pollifax: Forging a Niche – Sidney Cooper

It started out as just a passionate conversation between two people about writing and the growing arts community in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Christine Tran, 21, senior at Rutgers University, writes poetry and is active in the poetry community and local politics. Kevin Olitan, 22, recent graduate of Rutgers University is involved with the music community, local art organizations, and university-affiliated creative art programs.

She spent her summer in Berlin exploring the nightlife, architecture and art; he thought he was destined to write useless poetry and fiction and mindlessly play guitar in his room all day and night.

Olitan remembered Tran talking about starting a literary magazine with a mutual friend that never happened. They met up one afternoon in July at Thai Noodle, a local restaurant located on bustling Easton Avenue in New Brunswick, having extraordinary chinwag – Olitan and Tran shared their experiences in being organizers and part of the New Brunswick creative arts community.

“There was so much social and political expression within the art and poetry I studied this summer in Berlin, which led me to find a new understanding in the importance of self-expression in a scenery of such unrest,” said Tran, 21, web designer and photographer.

“We both agreed that there were too many writers popping out of the New Brunswick scene and not enough open mics and literary avenues to help them get published and grow,” said Olitan, videographer. “Out of a whim and boredom really I asked her if she still wanted to do a literary magazine.”

They thought it would be great to help promote the growing writing and music scene and help expose the sheer talent within the city. With Olitan’s involvement in the music community and Tran’s in the poetry scene, they were able to put together an online cultural publication showcasing writers, artists, and musicians interestingly under what they call the “Wanderer Sessions.”

While Tran learned the tricks of web design and HTML in a short period of time, Olitan sharpened his videography skills. In August of 2009, they came together in creating an independent creative arts publication., in the span of a month, became real. Currently, the publication is only available online, but the founders plan to publish a six month compilation book in the near future.

One of the writers showcased on Pollifax is Zandra Ruiz. Ruiz found out about Pollifax through her English professor when asking how to become more involved in the literary community.

“Pollifax is like home. It’s a mix of everything I love about New Brunswick,” said Ruiz. “It’s created by people I know, so it isn’t intimidating to submit my writing.”

Olitan and Tran have worked so hard to provide this space for artists, most definitely appreciated by writers of the literary community.

Proud writer featured on Pollifax, Christopher Raymond Campbell, was actually approached by co-founder, Tran, asking if he would submit his work. From then on he has made an effort to submit a writing piece for each new upcoming volume.

“Pollifax, to me, represents a grassroots movement in New Brunswick to preserve art,” said Raymond. “The ‘Wanderer Sessions’ showcase incredible talents and the poetry section gives life to a thriving writing community, as well.”

These “Wanderer Sessions” are recorded videos that will be online forever not just something that can easily be shut down, like a lot of shut down venues. Inspired by Vincent Moon, guerilla filmmaker — filming takes place in random places like street corners, classrooms, and buses with one camera.

“I want to represent music in its most basic, most beautiful, most genuine form, without any of the embellishments and bells and whistles that our culture today is so obsessed with,” Olitan said. “One camera and a shit load of amazing music. That’s it.”

The point of “Wanderer Sessions” is to showcase all talented bands in and out of the city like a memory or souvenir. The aspiration of this was not only promotional but it was for the people of the city and the world to see, unveiling this whole underground arts culture.

“It was a shame that kids from the University, who are right on fucking top of this bubbling art scene, know absolutely nothing of its existence,” Olitan said.

Hardevi Shah, poet showcased on Pollifax, was drawn to this online cultural magazine because it has no other purpose than to communicate and share a voice as opposed to being a competitive cultural publication.

“It has become this great way to connect the past, present and future of the New Brunswick community,” said Shah. “Pollifax is a baby publication that has been gaining incredible exposure through word of mouth, which is the truest gift to effort.”

Olitan and Tran both agreed that for a town full of talented artists, there is a lack of public venues and space for artists; there is little space for young artists to grow. Their ultimate goal is simply to provide a venue in and of itself for the people of New Brunswick.

“We have engrossed ourselves in the continuously growing arts community of New Brunswick and hope to continue to showcase the talents of this city and potentially artists in cities beyond,” Tran said.

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Meet the Pollifax Crew and More at Alfa Art Gallery

Upcoming Events:

  • March 26, (Friday) – 7pm-11pm – POLLIFAX at Alfa
  • March 27, (Saturday) – 2pm-4pm – “The Contemporary Relevance of the Renaissance Palette” – a lecture by Michael Price
  • April 2, (Friday) – 7:30pm-10:30pm – Vesselin Kourtev – solo exhibition
  • April 9, (Friday) – 7:30pm-10:30pm – “Uptown”, a Novel – Book promotion and signing

March 26th, 2010 – “Another Sunny Day” – POLLIFAX at Alfa

The Alfa Art Gallery is pleased to collaborate with the independent online creative arts publication, POLLIFAX, presenting “Another Sunny Day” on Friday, March 26th. Pollifax features the works of artists ranging from musicians to local writers from in and around the area. During their time as Rutgers students, founders Christine Tran and Kevin Olitan encountered instances of unrest regarding the lack of public art spaces and local venues for music while even independent coffee shops were closing down. The two created Pollifax as a “space” for the growing amount of talent coming in and out of the city.Currator: Julianna Ritter
Doors open at 7pm – $5 suggested donation

The founders will introduce their initiative to showcase the arts community of New Brunswick, New Jersey. Olitan will present “Wanderer Sessions”, a set of live, music videos featuring both local New Brunswick musicians and the ever-growing stream of talented bands passing through the city. Local poets will perform pieces inspired by art from the Alfa. Followed by performances by bands featured in the “Wanderer Sessions.”

(click here to learn more about this event)

March 27th, 2010 – 2-4pm – “The Contemporary Relevance of the Renaissance Palette” – a lecture by Michael Price

Outline (approx. 2 hours + questions/discussion)

Most contemporary artists are fighting a battle on their canvases. They have no knowledge of what is in their tubes of oil or acrylic paint, and to make matters worse they paint on canvases primed with a ground that carries the mysterious and generic name of “gesso”.

This lecture focuses on a lost art of painting. Its revival is in its infancy. The presentation focuses on a comparison of the so-called “historical pigments”, i.e. natural and mineral pigments such as lapis lazuli, azurite, malachite, cinnabar etc. with modern synthetic pigments such as cobalt blue, French ultramarine and cadmium red. Michael Price presents his ongoing pigment research with the world famous Doerner Institute of Munich, Germany.

  1. Introduction – The language of colour (physical characteristics).
  2. Prerequisites for the luminosity of the Renaissance Masters – Support, ground, pigments & binding mediums.
  3. Support and ground – panel v. stretched canvas – (traditional gesso v. the decline into the confusion and profusion of modern grounds).
  4. A comparison of natural & and mineral pigments from rocks and crystals with modern synthetic pigments – (pigment chroma)

    • Detailed analysis – mineral and synthetic pigments under the microscope – (pigment particle size, refractive index of pigments)Mineral pigment preparation – (levigation techniques)
    • How to improve the luminosity and drying time of synthetic pigments.
  5. Prerequisites for the choice of binding mediums with natural and mineral pigments (natural distempers, egg tempera; natural fir balsams, pine resins, cold pressed oils, polymerized and co-polymerized oils). This information can be applied to modern pigments.
  6. When is “oil paint” really oil paint?
  7. Conclusion: historical and contemporary examples of paintings with “chromatic intensity”.

Admission: $5

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April 2nd, 2010 – Vesselin Kourtev – Solo Exhibition Opening Reception

Opening Reception: April 2nd, 7:30-10:30pm
Exhibition Duration: April 2nd – April 21st

Starting in the early 1990s, Vesselin Kourtev has exhibited his artwork worldwide. Now in April 2010, the Alfa Art Gallery in New Brunswick, New Jersey will present his newest exhibition in collaboration with the release of Virginia DeBerry’s newest book Uptown where the title of each painting correlates to a chapter in her novel. There is an overtone of alluring energy in the figures and their composition with the background, offering the viewer ghostly, yet harmonious, visions of an abstract world. His tones and hues, especially in his painting Full to the brim of future(Chapter 20), express a sense of liberation as birds cascade over a saturated green landscape presenting a celebration of hope. The product of this process of creating a relationship between language and image is to build the bridge between different art mediums and to create a layer of ideas, a central theme in Kourtev’s work.

About Vesselin Kourtev’s exhibition by Virginia DeBerry

New Year’s Celebration leads to a Cross-Cultural Collaboration when bestselling author Virginia DeBerry attended a New Year’s Eve dinner at New Brunswick, New Jersey’s Alfa Gallery, she anticipated only an entertaining evening with friends old and new, and a different way to begin a new decade. Instead, the event gave rise to the Uptown exhibit, pairing Uptown, the latest novel by DeBerry and her writing partner Donna Grant, with the paintings of noted Bulgarian artist Vesselin Kourtev.

“I visited the gallery and was shown several canvases of Vesselin’s new work,” says DeBerry. “One painting in particular struck me as representative of both the closeness and the struggle between cousins Avery and Dwight, the main characters in our book.” This realization led to a discussion about the relationships between different art forms which proved to be the catalyst for gallery co-owner Galina Kourtev to put together a show called Uptown. Each painting is named for a chapter in the book, and Vesselin drew inspiration from the story for one special work entitled “Uptown.”

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April 9th, 2010 – “Uptown”, a Novel – Book Promotion

Reception: April 2th, 7:30-10:30pm

The 2000’s have witnessed both the real estate boom and the real estate meltdown. The fluctuating market has made headlines nationwide. In the seventh novel by Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, they too reached for the headlines in undertaking a story about a mogul’s dreams to build a real estate empire.

What is the true price of greed, unfettered ambition—and forgiveness? New York Times bestselling co-authors and best friends, Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant, who brought you Gotta Keep on Tryin’ (2008) and What Doesn’t Kill You (2009) are back with a story as big as New York City itself, following a wealthy, prominent family caught in a storm of sexual scandal, secrets, betrayal, and politics.

In UPTOWN: A Novel (Touchstone Books/Simon & Schuster Trade Paperback; March 2, 2010; ISBN: 9781439137765; $14.99) Dwight Dixon’s dream is to take over the Harlem real estate empire his father King has painstakingly built and to bring to fruition Dixon Plaza, a luxury high-rise complex on Central Park North. Everything, including his wife and daughter, comes second to his goal of changing the face of Harlem, and finally earning his callous father’s approval.

Avery Lyons, Dwight’s estranged cousin, returns to New York City after the tragic death of her mother, who also held a stake in King’s real estate company. After nearly two decades abroad, Avery reluctantly re-enters the life and neighborhood she had fled after Dwight, with whom she once shared a close bond, betrayed her trust. To Avery, Dwight’s lies cut deeper than the hurt and shame she felt after being attacked by one of her cousin’s friends. With her sassy and hot-tempered high school best friend Alicia at her side, Avery wades through the papers and deeds her mother left her, including the key piece of property Dwight needs in order to get his precious Dixon Plaza off the … (click here for the rest)

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