22 January 2024
This Thursday, 25 January 2024, Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, will be debuting a new art exhibition titled “Bigger than me” featuring 6 oil paintings and some 10 additional sketches created by renowned artist Shai Azoulay over the last month and a half. The exhibition will be on display in Yad Vashem’s Museum of Holocaust Art on the Mount of Remembrance through Holocaust Remembrance Day observed this year 5-6 May 2024.
This is the first time Yad Vashem has exhibited artwork that was not created by Holocaust victims or survivors and does not consist of art that depict the atrocities of the Holocaust. The focus of the exhibition is the personal expression of how the artist connects to the Holocaust through Yad Vashem. In the fall of 2023, Yad Vashem inaugurated its Residency Program with artist Shai Azoulay. During his time at Yad Vashem, Azoulay walked around the campus and explored its monuments and collections, including those dedicated to art, artifacts, photographs and documents. In the wake of this journey of discovery, he created the body of artwork currently on display in this exhibition.
“Azoulay’s artworks beckon us to join him on a quest in search of how we today connect to the memory of the Holocaust and its impact on our collective Jewish identity. The exhibition’s title, “Bigger Than Me”, reflects Azoulay's trepidation when navigating the subject of the Holocaust in the framework of his Residency Program at Yad Vashem”
Yad Vashem Director of the Art Collection and Museum Eliad Moreh-Rosenberg and this new exhibition’s curator.
While visiting Yad Vashem, the enormity of the tragedy of the Holocaust and weight of memory made him feel "that he had stepped into shoes that were several sizes too big for him". This was compounded by his apprehension and sense of disconnection to the Holocaust in light of the fact that his family's heritage is not related to the Holocaust.
Of the several artworks in the exhibition, one of his paintings is his artistic interpretation of the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem. His encounter with the victims' faces in the Hall of Names draws him up into a vortex, a black hole beyond the laws of gravitation where he floats hand in hand with his wife, in a nod to the world-renowned artist Marc Chagall.
“This residency at Yad Vashem has been an opportunity for me to discover my identity, in a very intimate and revealing way, something I have never done before. It addresses the levels of my Jewish identity and my Israeli identity, how I relate to my nation and the people around me. The experience of creating these pieces opened a journey into the unanswered question of who am I? In my opinion, every artist goes through such an experience, an endless journey trying to discover whom he can relate to, what defines him, and what he struggles to face. This collection of artworks is an amalgam of all of those aspects, but at large is my personal interpretation of the expression of memory of the Holocaust”
“In the beginning, I was hesitant to take on this project, I wasn’t sure in what way, as an artist I could portray the memory of the Holocaust,” Azoulay expresses. “Furthermore, the national tragedy of October 7 paralyzed me. I felt unable to paint and incapable of adequately expressing myself during this horrific time of sadness for the Jewish people. In a manner of speaking, this initiative with Yad Vashem, evoked something powerful within me, it brought me back to paint; it brought me back to life.”
"Shai Azoulay's 'Bigger Than Me' exhibition is not just a remarkable display of art, but a profound testament to the evolving nature of Holocaust remembrance," remarks Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan. "Azoulay's journey of discovery, as he found his connection to the Holocaust, mirrors the path future generations will tread in a world without direct ties to Holocaust survivors. Azoulay's work beautifully demonstrates that while the subject may initially seem 'bigger than them,' the connection persists, reminding us that the legacy of the Holocaust is not only historical but deeply personal for us all."
About the Artist
Shai Azoulay was born and raised in a Sephardic Jewish household in Kiryat Shemona. Azoulay discovered his passion for painting while traveling in the Far East after his IDF service. After completing his bachelor's degree (BFA) at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, he attained a BA in Art History at the Hebrew University, and in 2007, completed his master's degree from Bezalel (MFA) with honors. Since 2010, Azoulay has been a lecturer in Bezalel's external studies program and its Haredi branch. His art has been displayed at several one-man and group exhibitions in Israel and around the world.
About the Residency Program
The Residency Program run by the Cultural and Public Engagement Division enables artists from different disciplines to spend time at Yad Vashem, and to gain inspiration from the World Holocaust Remembrance Center's collections, programming, personnel and panoramic views.