Art takes many forms, but it's almost always about telling stories.
Life's like that, too.
Sometimes we can't remember which parts we make up and which parts are true.
It doesn't matter. Truth lurks in stories, either way.
Case in point: the new photo exhibit "Negatives Are to Be Stored" by Stefania Gurdowa and "A Piece of Land" by Andrzej Kramarz, which opened last weekend in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Schaefer International Gallery. It makes each person who steps into the gallery become the storyteller.
Kramarz is a Polish photographer who now lives on the Big Island and teaches at Hawaii Community College in Hilo. His large-format color photos show sylvan scenes in a rural Polish village. Tidy white homes, surrounded by well-manicured green lawns and orderly fields under comforting big skies.
But then you put on the earphones in front of each photo. You hear aging, accented voices of witnesses recounting the horrors that went on in this village during World War II. The voices recount in great detail fascist gangs brutalizing and killing Jews and other victims in the vicinity.
Before your eyes, the photos change. Echoes of cries in the night repaint the tranquil landscapes. You see the story.
On the other side of the gallery, eyes of hundreds of strangers look out from the walls, catching you in their unblinking gazes. Looking like passport shots, they, too, were taken in the little town of Debica between 1918 and 1939, where Gurdowa was a professional photographer - a rarity for women of her time. She captured the images on glass-plate negatives, pairing two portraits on each plate because of the expense of the materials.
The people in the photos wound up in concentration camps. The photographer was imprisoned in Auschwitz, but she survived the war. The plates were found hidden in her apartment walls following her death in 1968. Although the negatives were in horrible condition, Kramarz led a team restoring and archiving them into an award-winning book as well as the exhibit.
There are no captions, no names. Looking into the eyes of Gurdowa's beseeching subjects or at Kramarz's haunting landscapes forces your imagination to "write" the narratives - young lives and hopes senselessly lost, village elders led indifferently to their deaths. When you realize it all took place close to today's Ukraine, the story jumps from dusty history to a living tragedy you might hear on CNN the next time you turn on your TV.
But there's the sliver of hope, too, that witnessing horror might instruct us how not to repeat it. Slivers of hope are another reason for sharing our stories.
Artist Kramarz was engaging as he led the opening-night walk-through Saturday; Schaefer Gallery Director Neida Bangerter shared her musical side in her opening comments, a reminder that the Maui Academy of Performing Arts' "Miss Saigon" was also opening that night at the MACC.
Among those on hand were Tony Novak-Clifford, Jackie Pias Carlin, Jennifer Owen, Tom and Michelle Sewell, Kathy and Barclay MacDonald, Susan Brown and Willa Romanchak. It was also great catching up with artist and former Schaefer Gallery Director Darrell Orwig, a wonderful storyteller himself, like the ringmaster in an imaginary circus.
Actor Robin Williams' death last Monday remains the saddest story on many of our minds a week later. In our celebrity-centric world, there was no one like him - no one even close - who touched so many of us so deeply in so many ways.
The staggering statistics of others struggling with the same demons he faced, including depression, bouts of addiction and the onset of Parkinson's disease leading up to his suicide, prompted his widow, Susan Schneider to express "the hope that others will find the strength to seek the care and support they need to treat whatever battles they are facing."
Mental Health Kokua will celebrate Williams' life with a showing of his landmark "Good Morning Vietnam" Sept. 12 at the Historic Iao Theater. I'll be participating in the event, coordinated by Dr. Tom Vendetti. We'll also be doing an all-day Mental Health Kokua film and music festival Nov. 9 at the MACC. Planned long before Robin's suicide, that event is dedicated to helping remove the stigmas long associated with mental illness in our society.
I was fortunate to talk to the comic genius in the 1980s in an interview you can watch on YouTube. Just search for "Rick Chatenever interviews Robin Williams," or go to Robert Stone's Maui Films link, youtu.be/ccnGT24VckE.
The five-minute clip reveals a rarely seen side of this unique human being blessed with a magical mind traveling at the speed of light, and a heart of fathomless compassion. We will never see his like again.
As I was putting the finishing touches on this column, word arrived that Maui's own "Get a Job" had just taken top prize for the best feature film at Detroit's Trinity International Film Festival. Written and directed entirely on Maui by local boy Brian Kohne, the rollicking madcap comedy starring Willie K and Eric Gilliom was chosen from more than 40 films from 14 countries at this festival honoring the spirit of independent filmmaking. Many readers of this column were part of the film as cast, crew and appreciative audiences.
Fans will also be excited to hear that the multitalented Gilliom will team up with his equally gifted sister - you may have heard of her, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom - to reprise their roles as Frankenfurter and Janet in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" coming to the MACC Halloween night. Amy describes the production on Facebook as "a HUGE dance party, DJ, live band and the whole AMAZING cast, and the movie all woven together for a crazy 21-&-over extravaganza!!!"
It's Halloween, so come in disguise.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at email@example.com or 344-9535.