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Amy Fagin


Amy Fagin is a creator of illustrated manuscripts and owner of 20th Century Illuminations, a business through which she has sustained herself through her artwork for over 20 years. Fagin's works embrace the beauty, depth and intricacy that were the hallmarks of the illuminated manuscripts that pre-date mass-production and the printing press, the time when books were treasured for their beauty as well as for their contents. Considering the illustrations her "calling," Fagin wanted to make a living from art, and was drawn to this genre, mostly because of the way that the illustrations distort perspective, which she believes helps to create a different plane of understanding. At 20th Century Illuminations, Fagin's bread and butter works are the ketubah, ceremonial objects that have been an active part of the Jewish tradition for 3000 years, and objects that one is obliged to use in a service that unites a couple. Fagin is one of just a few artists doing these illuminated pieces, and she is well aware of the need to balance tradition with the modern era. Fagin's ketubahs aims to surpass a beautiful piece of paper, she digs into each to find a personal message, makes limited edition prints of the images, and personalizes them for each couple." In 2001, after nearly 15 years of work creating images that symbolize belonging, togetherness and love between a couple, Fagin tackled one of the most complex and horrific issues facing humanity; genocide. It was for her body of work entitled "Beyond Genocide" that the Massachusetts Cultural Council awarded Fagin the 2006 prize. Fagin began by looking at the concept of genocide and read what scholars would have considered genocide experiences. "Of the hundreds of thousands of genocide events, I tried to distill the list to the most important, and made a list of 27. I hen went back to the regions, investigated the history. From the earliest history, I looked at how the area became inhabited, civilized, the golden ages, points of decline, and tried to capture an d crystallize the civilization. Armenia, for example, has a cultural heritage of being victimized. It is complicated, but I just try to do the reading, and see what crops up after sift through the material," explains Fagin. From there an intricate, colorful and richly layered illuminated manuscript is created. Beyond the original, she creates a limited edition of 1000 prints. Each is framed and is available for exhibition or purchase. Compared to creating ketubahs, Fagin acknowledges, "This series is a whole different animal. This is a touring show, with a completed framed series. Work is loaned out, and then I go and do an educational workshop. I dig into the history of the areas, look at art and antiquity, and then the state of decline." We look at one or many facets of the different cultures that have been illuminated. We compare who was just sort of run over, like during the Crusades and Inquisition, which are more of a duel than an outright slaughter. So many communities got trampled along the way." Fagin works with schools that exhibit the series and engaging older children and adults in the process of understanding not only what has happened, but why one part of culture can victimize or brutally murder another. "The atrocities themselves are just one aspect of the culture, so I go so past the vileness of the atrocities; (and focus on ) the pervasive part of our culture that we don't acknowledge, and without that component, we can't get beyond understanding." Society as a whole is responsible for genocide. Fagin explains that genocide can happen because "There exists a permissiveness that allows polarization and subjugation. This work aims to address that." When asked how she can immerse herself in such an intensely painful series and remain positive, Fagin says, "This work is not a burden to me, this is creative, and my honor and privilege to be able to wrestle with this issue. I want to be genuinely helpful. I feel sorrow for those who have suffered and were never able to experience freedom and joy. Those of us who do are obliged to help out." Why is she doing this work now? Fagin said, "The last 100 years have been the worst in terms of numbers of people killed. My aim is to empower the individual so (genocide) is not so far away, foreign, horrifying, it is always the other guy. We are not powerless; we can take steps to create societies that don't tolerate that type of behavior. We have come in too late too often, and have to fight fire with fire. I would like to see more prevention, and laws that will not allow societies to fall apart. This project helps the layperson understand their part. I am just someone who cares deeply that humans are so confused. We can't allow this, don’t have to accept it." When she received her letter announcing the Massachusetts Cultural Council award, she said she was immediately very happy, and poured the funds into the project. Fagin is deeply committed to this project, and to seeing the work make a difference. Fagin selects a nonprofit organization working on genocide prevention or to education within the culture she has illuminated, and donates a portion of sales to that organization. For example, for Bangladesh, donations are made to Mukti Juddah Museum (Bangladesh Liberation War Museum) in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the victims of the genocide in Bangladesh. "Beyond Genocide" can be seen on Fagin's website, www.20thcenturyilluminations.com, http://www.massnonprofit.org/news.php?artid=190&catid=13" http://www.massnonprofit.org/news.php?artid=190&catid=13, or in the spring of 2007, at Greenfield Community College thanks to a grant from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation andco-sponsorship with GCC.

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