Bela Taraseiskey: Artist Statement
I'm an artist. My first museums were the Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches of my hometown, Vilnius, Lithuania. In those structures, I experienced my first glimpse of beauty.
In Vilnius, I grew up among Jewish, Lithuanian, Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian girls, all of us having one thing in common, we lost our fathers in World War II. Though Vilnius was multicultural in ethnicity and religion, I grew up Jewish, and for me, my immediate world was what I've came to call “Little Jerusalem.” Nonetheless, it was all of Vilnius that contributed to my artist's palette—religious architecture, as well as the uniquenesses of the religions themselves, and the traditions of my neighbors.
After I married and gave birth to the first of my two daughters, my family fled to Israel, where we lived for ten years and where I came to experience and appreciate the natural and cultural wonder that is Jerusalem. This unique city provided me with a great amount of visual stimulation—very similar to what I knew in Vilnius. Jerusalem's pronounced landscapes, atmosphere, diversity, and spirituality have inspired artists for centuries. From ancient times, Jerusalem has been one of the world's spiritual capitals. It was in Jerusalem that I first realized that religion can unite millions of people, and elevate them to a higher level. It was here, even though there is the ever-present tension and too often expressed hatred of various communities, that I realized that temples and churches can touch the heavens and go beyond the mundane. My thirst for using Jerusalem as a foundation to understanding the horrors of war, and the mistreatment of man-to-man, grew exponentially and in turn, fed my curiosity and hunger for knowledge.
For my entire life I thought about the father I never knew, and a thirst for finding out about his last days grew. I continually dreamt of what could have happened to him during the war. In many ways, it was no comfort to have been told he perished during the last days of WW II. I had to find out for myself and to find answers to my many questions. Eventually in 2006, I decided to go on my own quest. I contacted military archives, the United States Embassy in Russia and the U.S., as well as non-governmental organizations, including the newspaper in Orenburg, Russia, where I believed his life ended. I brought others into my search. After much investigation, and help from others, I found his final resting place in an old military cemetery in Orenburg, Russia.
As I gathered information, I soon realized that I was not only on an historical journey, but I was participating in a spiritual experience that was taking hold of my life—it was truly transformative. Each new bit of information fortified my determination. I found myself running across the world carrying a torch to find and clarify my roots. This intense period brought me to higher level—closer to a new understanding—and to God. As an artist it became the most prolific period of time in my life.
The collection of paintings, “Windows to Jerusalem” illustrates how I’ve distilled a lifetime of hiding from the past and reaching to liberation—all of this through paint and canvas.