The multidisciplinary exhibition tells the ongoing story of the Babyn Yar ravine in Kyiv, Ukraine and its extraordinary synagogue for the first time in its full cultural, historical, spiritual and political context
March 16, TORONTO (ON) – Today, the Koffler Gallery, in partnership with Swiss Architect Manuel Herz and Canadian historian and curator Robert Jan van Pelt, announce the world-premiere exhibition of The Synagogue at Babyn Yar: Turning the Nightmares of Evil into a shared Dream of Good. This international exhibition is brought together with assistance from Canadian architect Douglas Birkenshaw and through architectural photography by celebrated Dutch photographer Iwan Baan. The exhibition features large-scale photographic murals directed by Ukrainian-Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky taken by Ukrainian photographer Maxim Dondyuk.
Babyn Yar is a 160-hectare site in Kyiv, Ukraine where the first large-scale massacre of the Holocaust occurred in 1941. The multi-disciplinary exhibition tells the story of the Babyn Yar Synagogue in its full historical, political, artistic and spiritual contexts for the first time.
The exhibition at the Koffler Gallery opens on April 17th, the eve of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and will run to the end of Holocaust Education Week on November 12th, 2023. It will link three moments in time of exceptional global resonance – the original 1941 massacre, the creation and dedication of this extraordinary, jewel-like, wooden synagogue and the current Russian war against Ukraine.
"We must never forget the tragedy of Babyn Yar. We understand this as an exceptionally brutal moment in the history of the Jewish people, but it is also an unspeakably horrific event in world history. We believe this exhibition, The Synagogue at Babyn Yar: Turning the Nightmares of Evil into a shared Dream of Good, is the most comprehensive account to date of the story joining the dots from WWII to the present day,” says Anthony Sargent CBE, Interim Director, Koffler Centre of the Arts. “As we honour, mourn and acknowledge the appalling events that happened at Babyn Yar, we also cherish Manuel Herz’s visionary synagogue, expressing so joyfully a wish for peace and for a better collective future.”
The Babyn Yar ravine was the location of the greatest single massacre in the Holocaust. Known as the ‘Holocaust by bullets', an early forensic record of what transpired states: “The Germans ordered everyone, without exception—girls, women, children, and old men—to strip naked; their clothes were gathered up and placed in neat piles. Rings were torn from the fingers of the naked people, both men and women. Then the executioners placed the doomed people in rows along the edge of the deep ravine and shot them at point blank range. The bodies fell over the cliff. Small children were pushed into the ravine alive.” Thus German soldiers murdered 33,771 Jews in two days.
Commissioned by the Babyn Yar Foundation in 2020, the Babyn Yar Synagogue was conceived and designed by Jewish, Basel-based architect Manuel Herz and built in six months. The unique ‘Wunderkabinett’ or cabinet-of-wonders wooden synagogue, with antecedents ranging from traditional Jewish culture to children’s pop-up story books, was conceived to bring hope and joy to a site so charged with the most profound grief.
Visitors at the exhibition will enter through an ante-room recording the Babyn Yar massacre itself, giving context to the rest of the installation and introducing the single largest massacre of the Holocaust by means of short texts and a searing selection of images from September 1941, by Johannes Hähle a German military photographer who served in the Wehrmacht Propaganda Troops during World War II.
In the main exhibition space, visitors will be entirely surrounded by immense, high-resolution panoramic mural images created as a result of a unique collaboration between renowned Toronto photographer, Edward Burtynsky and Ukrainian photographer, Maxim Dondyuk, who is the winner of a Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography for his photographic reportage on Ukraine's battle for survival. Burtynsky, a Ukrainian-Canadian artist who specializes in large format photography of the human-altered landscape, remotely directed this shoot with Dondyuk who was in Ukraine at the Synagogue site with his camera.
Other parts of the exhibition will give the visitor a multi-level experience and understanding of the synagogue project, allowing for many different depths of engagement and visit lengths anywhere from thirty minutes to several hours. The story of the project will be told through documents and artifacts, models, a beautifully detailed projection of the extraordinary painted ceiling of the synagogue, vividly recreating the stars in the 29 September 1941 night sky, and through a specially made film extending the exhibition with further contextual visuals, videos, still images and other documentary material. Images from the most celebrated photographer, Iwan Baan, are carefully selected to show the details of the Synagogue. A wooden model of the synagogue, showing the topography and the ground condition of the site. This model, being specially brought from Kyiv, was completed just before the Russian attack.
The exhibition opens in another time of immense peril for the Ukrainian people, and it also seeks to bring an awareness of what the Ukrainian people today, non-Jewish and Jewish, are together fighting for. The project, realized in a broad collaboration between official and civil society in Ukraine, stands for the aspiration to make a bold new beginning in a land cursed with too many unresolved pasts, both repressed and remembered.
A public engagement program curated by Joshua Heuman will accompany the gallery installation show and will offer a series of focused events to contextualize and help audiences unpack the intertwined layers of urgent concerns and references that underpin the exhibition.
For more information on the exhibition, hours of operation and public programming, visit www.kofflerarts.org.
For images of the Babyn Yar Synagogue in Kyiv by Iwan Baan please visit this link.
About Manuel Herz
Manuel Herz Architects
Based in Basel, Switzerland, Manuel Herz’s practice is embedded in research, covering a wide range of typologies, locations and scales. Completed works include a housing project in Zürich described in the New York Times as “A Building that Dances”, a large hospital in Tambacounda in eastern Senegal, the Synagogue of Mainz and the Synagogue for the Babyn Yar memorial site in Kyiv, Ukraine, among many other acclaimed projects across Europe, Asia and Africa. Manuel Herz has also been active in furniture and exhibition design, and in urban master planning and research. He has taught at leading architectural schools including the University of Basel where he was co-founder of the Institute of Urban Studies, Switzerland’s first interdisciplinary institute for urban research. His research focuses on the architecture and urbanism of migration.
His book “From Camp to City: Refugee Camps of the Western Sahara” shows how refugee camps can be places of social emancipation. His award-winning book “African Modernism - Architecture of Independence” presents the architecture of Ghana, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Kenya and Zambia, and the parallel exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum has been shown at museums and cultural institutions in Europe, the US, and across Africa.
His work has won numerous international awards, been exhibited in museums worldwide, and acquired by such collections as New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). For the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennial, he created the National Pavilion of Western Sahara, and his office has now been invited to design the Swiss Pavilion for the World-Expo 2025 in Osaka.
About Robert Jan van Pelt
University Professor, School of Architecture, University of Waterloo
Robert Jan van Pelt, recipient of many distinguished academic honours, has taught at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture since 1987 and held appointments at many higher education institutions in Europe, Asia and North America. He has published books on such diverse topics as the cosmic speculations on the Temple of Solomon, relativism in architectural history, the history of Auschwitz, the history of the Holocaust, Jewish refugees, Holocaust denial, and most recently, An Atlas of Jewish Space, which accompanied the opening in 2021 of the Babyn Yar synagogue.
An internationally recognized authority on the history of Auschwitz, van Pelt’s work was featured in two BBC television programmes and he chaired the team developing a master plan for the preservation of Auschwitz. He also appeared in Errol Morris’s film Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr and served as an expert witness on the Holocaust and holocaust denial in the notorious libel case David Irving vs. Penguin and Lipstadt. His forensic work on the Auschwitz crematoria generated The Evidence Room installation shown at the Venice Biennale, the ROM and many other museums. Van Pelt is also Chief Curator of the traveling exhibition Auschwitz. Not Far Away. Not Long Ago, shown to date in Madrid, New York, Kansas City, Malmö, and next in Los Angeles, seen by 1.4 million visitors to date.
About Iwan Baan
Dutch photographer Iwan Baan is known primarily for images that narrate the life and interactions that occur within architecture. Born in 1975, Iwan grew up outside Amsterdam. After his studies in photography at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague, Baan followed his interest in documentary photography, before narrowing his focus to record the various ways in which individuals, communities and societies create, and interact within their built environment.
With his combined passion for documentary and space, Baan’s photographs reveal our innate ability to re-appropriate our available objects and materials, in order to find a place we can call our own. Examples of this can be seen in his work on informal communities where vernacular architecture and placemaking serve as examples of human ingenuity, such as his images of the Torre David in Caracas – a series that won Baan the Golden Lion for Best Installation at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale.
With no formal training in architecture, his perspective mirrors the questions and perspectives of the everyday individuals who give meaning and context to the architecture and spaces that surround us, and this artistic approach has given matters of architecture an approachable and accessible voice.
As the inaugural recipient of the Julius Shulman award for photography, today, architects such as Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Diller Scofidio & Renfro, Toyo Ito, SANAA and Morphosis turn to Baan to give their work a sense of place and narrative within their environments. Alongside his architecture commissions, Iwan has collaborated on several successful book projects such as Insular Insight: Where Art and Architecture Conspire with Nature, Torre David: Informal Vertical Communities and Brasilia & Chandigarh – Living With Modernity, Momentum of Light with Francis Kere. Baan’s work also appears on the pages of architecture, design and lifestyle publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Architectural Record, Domus, Abitare and Architectural Digest.
Iwan Baan was named one of the 100 most influential people in contemporary architecture world by the magazine Il Magazine dell’Architettura on occasion of their 100th issue.
About Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky is widely regarded as one of the world's most eloquent contemporary
Photographers. His unforgettable images of global industrial landscapes represent over 40 years of dedication to bearing witness to the impact of humans on the planet, with photographs included in the collections of over 80 major museums around the world. Major touring exhibitions include: Anthropocene (2018); Water (2013); Oil (2009 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.); China (2005 five-year tour), and Manufactured Landscapes (2003 - National Gallery of Canada).
Burtynsky’s many distinctions include the inaugural TED Prize in 2005, shared with Bono and Robert Fischell; the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts; the Outreach award at the Rencontres d’Arles and the 2018 Photo London Master of Photography Award. In 2019 he received the Arts & Letters Award at the Canadian Association of New York’s annual Maple Leaf Ball and the Lucie Award for Documentary Photography. In 2020 he won a Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship, and last year the Outstanding Contribution to Photography Award from the World Photography Organization. Burtynsky currently holds eight honorary doctorates.
Most recently Burtynsky was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and was the 2022 recipient of the annual Pollution Probe Award. His work was central to the award winning documentary trilogy, Jennifer Baichwal's Manufactured Landscapes (2006), Watermark (2013) and ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch (2018), directing the last two alongside Baichwal. All three films continue to make a profound impact in festivals around the world.
About Maxim Dondyuk
Maxim Dondyuk is a Ukrainian visual artist working in the field of documentary photography. His practice integrates multiple mediums including photography, video, text, and archival material. Maxim’s works often explore issues relating to history, memory, conflict, and their consequences.
Selected past projects include ‘TB epidemic in Ukraine’, a two-year work which investigated the problem of tuberculosis in Ukraine; ‘Crimea Sich’, is both a series of photographs and a documentary, which tell about a military upbringing of children in the secret camp in the Crimea Mountains and its pitfalls; ‘Between Life and Death’, is a personal reflection on the aftermath of wars through the ruins and devastated landscapes, previously been battlefields; ‘Culture of Confrontation’, which in 2019 resulted in the book of the same name, and became a turning point in author’s artistic work. In his ongoing project ‘Untitled Project from Chernobyl’ Maxim works with vernacular and found photographs in the restricted areas, combining them with landscape photographs of the territories that were burned by nuclear energy.
Maxim has been widely awarded numerous recognitions including International Photographer of the Year in Lucie Awards, finalist of the Prix Pictet Photography Prize, Magnum Photos competition ‘30 under 30’ for emerging documentary photographers, finalist of the W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography. His work has been exhibited internationally, at the Musée d’Art Moderne in Paris, Somerset House in London, MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome, International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum in Geneva, the Biennale of Photography in Bogota in Colombia, among others. He also was awarded an artist residency Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. Maxim’s works are held in private and museum collections, including the National Museum of Photography in Colombia, the Benaki Museum in Greece, the National Museum of The History of Ukraine in WWII.
About The Koffler
The Koffler Centre of the Arts is a presenting and producing cultural platform and Gallery, engaging audiences of all backgrounds and ages in conversations that explore the ideas, issues and questions of our time from diverse perspectives, articulated through a passion for learning and understanding. As a Jewish organization, in everything we do we value inclusiveness, equality and justice, giving tangible expression to the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam (Hebrew for ‘repairing our world’).
Our programming seeks to help people engage with complex issues in respectful, constructive ways, through exhibitions, literary events, performances, digital initiatives, publications and educational activities, offering transformative arts experiences and stimulating intercultural conversations and global dialogues. These principles underpin the Koffler’s engagement with today’s keenest contemporary creative minds in producing and presenting art and experiences that help us shape our shared cultural life and define our values.
Visit us online at kofflerarts.org to learn more and follow our programs and future artistic collaborations.
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