Si Lewen: The Parade presents an epic series of sixty-three drawings by Polish-born artist Si Lewen (1918-2016). Lewen, an immigrant who lived and worked in New York and Pennsylvania, witnessed the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1945 while serving in the United States Army as a member of an elite force of native German-speaking G.I.s. called the Ritchie Boys. In the 1950s he published a cutting-edge graphic novel that directly responded to these horrors, and this exhibition presents the full set of drawings that were created specifically for this book project.
Without a single written word, The Parade speaks to cycles of war, the seductive glory and pomp, followed by soldier enlistment, community deprivation, devastating destruction, death, and heartbreak. When the war ends, the cycle repeats. The artist was born during the final days of World War I; the armistice parades after that conflict, the rise of Nazism, and the brutal violence of World War II, all inform his haunting tale.
The Parade begins with children and families making their way toward a celebration for the men that will soon be sent off to war. Over the course of the wordless narrative, Lewen explores the destruction and despair that takes hold of communities as violence builds and lives are lost. This important and rarely-seen body of work powerfully engaged viewers when it debuted nearly seven decades ago and remains prescient and timely for audiences today.
This exhibition is the first in the United States to bring together the complete set of works from The Parade. The International Institute for Restorative Practices in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, serves as the lender for this presentation.
Si Lewen: The Parade is curated by Kelly Montana, Assistant Curator, Menil Drawing Institute.
This exhibition is generously supported by Leslie Field and Morris A. Weiner; Jacquelyn Barish; Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance; Barbara and Michael Gamson; Heidi and David Gerger; Caroline Huber; Lois and George Stark; and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.