Art depicts Holocaust memories
Posted Feb. 20, 2009

Lauryl Bakke
Staff Writer

Many people think of paper as being one-dimensional, but artist Desiree Engel is able to give it many more dimensions along with a story in her exhibition “Desiree Engel: An Artist’s Journey” on display at 57 Underground Gallery in Pomona.

Engel, who did not start her art career until age 50, draws most of her inspiration for her work from her experiences in concentration camps during World War II in her native country Yugoslavia.

Her “Shelter Series” includes depictions of hideaways she stayed in during the Holocaust, after Germany invaded her country and her family got bombed out of their house.

“It looks pretty, but there’s no escape,” Engel said. “Once you’re in there you can’t get out.”

Her paintings may look beautiful to those viewing them, but for Engel they were a scary reality.

Engel uses handmade cotton paper in her works, then dyes and tears the paper to the shapes she needs to complete the look.

She interweaves yarn, sand and newspaper clippings within the paper, pulling it all together with glue to get the extremely unique visual outcome of her art.

She is able to manipulate the paper into looking as if it were other materials, such as metal or clay among other things.

Even her assistant Ginger Marshal was surprised to find out that all of the art was indeed made with paper.

Engel’s second series in the exhibit entitled “Holocaust-Never Ending Cycle” depicts the harsh experiences and outcomes of the Holocaust, using a lot of reds and tears in the paper.

One in particular, entitled “Violation,” included news clippings and maps of other tragedies, like those in Rwanda, Japan and Bosnia, over a blood red canvas with a prominent tear down the middle.

“Only when you step back are able to see things through her eyes, see what she experienced,” Marshal said.

Although many of her images included struggle and painful memories, she also included little specks of hope into each one, such as a dab of green or gold, indicating renewal.

Engel used her art as a healing process and over the years as her healing became more and more complete, her work become lighter in both color and content.

More of her recent art is brighter, representing her life as it is now.

“The exhibition allows viewers to take a walk in Engel’s shoes, so to speak, and experience her ‘life’s journey,’ April Alba, a University of Southern California student, said.

“And understand how she came to be, and what she overcame.”

Each piece of Engel’s art tells a story and is full of so many visual elements that those viewing it can know of what she has been through, and appreciate the history that much more.

To experience the retrospective of Desiree Engel’s art work in “An Artist’s Journey” stop by the 57 Underground Gallery in Pomona.

The exhibit runs through Feb. 28, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on that night, where the artist will be present. The gallery hours are Friday through Sunday 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.

For more information, visit

Lauryl Bakke can be reached at

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