Artists offer helping hands to Kosovars

May 20, 1999|By Glenn McNatt | Glenn McNatt,SUN ART CRITIC

She has been a victim of persecution, a displaced person and a refugee. So it's no wonder that Holocaust survivor Gigi McKendric feels passionately about the plight of women and children caught up in the brutal war in Kosovo.

McKendric, a petite, sprightly woman whose studio in a converted Baltimore City firehouse is filed with her signature sculptures of faces and hands modeled in bronze and plaster, is the moving force behind a group of Maryland artists who have organized a benefit for victims of the Kosovo war Sunday at Bohager's tavern in Fells Point from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

"When Kosovo came up, I felt that I had to do something and that other artists should be involved as well," said McKendric, who was born in Romania and has lived in Baltimore for 14 years. When she called on friends and colleagues earlier this month to help put on the event, the local arts community rallied to her cause.

Maryland artists, art collectors and musicians responded by donating their time and 50 artworks that will be sold this weekend to raise money for Kosovar relief efforts. Proceeds from the sale will go to Doctors of the World, a nonprofit organization based in the United States that provides long-term health care to some of the world's worst trouble spots.

The benefit also will feature musical performances by members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the Ned Goold Jazz Trio and by 12-year-old violin prodigy Wei-wei Wang, a student at the Peabody Institute.

McHendric, a sculptor, photographer, installation and performance artist, regards the benefit as part of her personal crusade against what she calls "man's inhumanity to man."

"If we don't do anything when we see crimes committed against humanity, then those who commit such crimes assume that we acquiesce in them," she said. "So there has to be a response, because we have to live with our consciences."

This is not the first time McKendric has been moved to action because of a human tragedy. In 1997, when a group of Israeli schoolchildren visiting Jordan was attacked by a Jordanian soldier, McKendric designed a memorial park for the site where seven of the girls were killed.

She also filmed a documentary in Israel on the families of the girls and incorporated it into a multimedia installation that was exhibited at Yeshiva University in New York City.

"They brought in students from the surrounding schools to see it and the children responded immediately, because so many of them had also lost friends to violence," McKendric recalled.

In Baltimore, McKendric was commissioned to create two sculptures at Cross Country Elementary School in 1998. She created both pieces using the hands and faces of the school's children, parents and teachers as models.

"I think hands and faces define us as human beings," she said. "I make a mask of the face just as the person is sitting. It's a whole process, very quiet. I don't change anything, so you see exactly the expression they had on their faces when the piece was made."

McKendric said much of her own work has been inspired by African sculpture. Many of her sculptures are totemic figures that suggest the continuity of human experience from past to present.

And though her own life hasn't always been easy -- she describes herself as a "gypsy" who has lived all over the world and raised three children to adulthood along the way -- she says she cannot turn her back on the suffering of others.

"I know what it means to be a refugee, a displaced person, to be persecuted," she says. "But I like to think that is only one of my motivations. Because you don't have to have experienced those things personally in order to respond, as the other artists who have made this event possible have shown.

"No, you don't stop because you have no money. You change, and you put your whole heart and soul into things like this benefit."

A way to help

What: Benefit for women and children of Kosovo

Where: Bohager's, 515 Eden St., Fells Point

When: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $25 at Bohager's or TicketMaster

Donations: Women and Children of Kosovo, P.O. Box 11783, Baltimore 21206 Call: 410-254-7016 or 410-563-7220

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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