Prof. Shira Malkin Curates Exhibit In Tribute to Her Father’s Artistic and Cultural Legacy

Like a beautiful blend of colors, Dr. Shira Malkin has fused elements of scholarly research with something intensely personal—her father’s artwork.  

David Malkin was an Eastern European Jewish sculptor and painter affiliated with the New School of Paris. He created works revealing faith, beauty, and his concern for the human condition. Rich with colors, his compositions are distinguished by subtle and refined chromatic nuances that often suggest mysterious masks, music-like variations on the Hebrew alphabet, and silhouettes that look like sculptures. 

“He wanted others to be touched and healed by his art.” 

                            — Dr. Shira Malkin

Shira Malkin, who is an associate professor of French at Rhodes, has taught courses reflecting her interest in language, storytelling, theater, and cultural history, including the course Jews in French Literature and Culture with Prof. Jonathan Judaken. Shelves of books line her office in Palmer Hall, but on the wall behind her desk is a poster for the art show she recently curated in tribute to her renowned father. Last summer, she and her sister selected 22 of his paintings to be featured at the Jay Etkin Gallery in an exhibition that opened on Jan. 13 and will close on Feb. 22, 2017.

“My sister Yona—who by the way still lives in Paris—and I breathed and were surrounded by my father’s art growing up. If we got too rambunctious in our apartment, someone would say ‘Shush, your father is working,’” she recalls. David Malkin died in 2002 with a sketchbook at his side, and today his works are displayed at The Galerie Arnoux in Paris. 

“My sister had already published a beautiful book about him, full of illustrations and photographs, and over the years, I thought I would approach museums here in the United States to do something with his paintings. One day while having a conversation with my longtime friend Jay Etkin, a spark was lit in me when he said that I could use his gallery space in the Cooper Young area. I thought that was amazingly generous. And so, this is my father’s American debut, and I’m pretty happy it’s happened, since he never got to come here.” 

David Malkin was born March 23, 1910, near Odessa, Ukraine. His grandfather was the scribe of the local synagogue and copied sacred texts by hand onto parchment scrolls. In the family hardware store, his father sold dyes for fabrics, paints for buildings, and pastels for artists. David Malkin began his artistic training at age 12, and he was exhibiting his sculptures alongside those of established artists at age 14. In 1934, he emigrated from the Ukraine to Palestine, working as a figurative sculptor. Years later, he moved to Jerusalem, where his work was exhibited at the prestigious Schlosser Gallery. David Malkin served in the Jewish unit of the British Eighth Army during World War II, using his carpenter skills to build decoys for diverting enemy aircraft. In 1947, a scholarship to the Academy of Fine Arts allowed him to travel to Florence, Italy, where Shira was born years later. The family eventually moved to Paris. There, David Malkin thrived as a painter and was included among the artists of the New School of Paris.

Shira Malkin says her father had an extraordinary passion for what he was doing, and he used art as a way to heal himself as a result of losing family members in the Holocaust. “He wanted others to be touched and healed by his art.” In addition to the gallery show, Shira Malkin has used her academic organizational and research skills to create a biographical website (davidmalkinart.com) and to present a guided tour of the exhibition. She also taught a seminar through Rhodes’ Meeman Center on “The School of Paris,” which examined the artistic choices made by pre-war and post-war immigrant creators, the role that Paris and their Jewish identity played in their work, and their critical reception in France and abroad.

“My father’s life spanned the 20th century, and as a scholar, I wanted to show how his life intersected so many historical movements,” says Shira Malkin. “I used my scholarly background to say to audiences, ‘Let me help you discover who this person is and how he fits into the history of art, because he has made some really great contributions.’”  

Each summer, Shira Malkin travels to Paris to conduct her academic research, and while there in 2016, she and her sister selected her father’s paintings (1965-1995) to be featured at the Jay Etkin Gallery. The works are oil on various kinds of paper and no larger than 10-by-12 inches. “We didn’t choose large pieces because I had to transport them in my suitcase by airplane. My father often worked on smaller paintings rather than enormous canvases because we lived in a city where space was very tight. ‘I do big works in small sizes,’ sometimes he would joke.” Shira Malkin adds that her father, whom she describes as “the sweetest man, whose long hair floated when he walked,” had a playful side, and he liked to do caricatures and drawings in pencil and paper.

The opening at the Jay Etkin Gallery drew more than 200 guests, who had the chance to see up close the work of David Malkin. “To have him in such a beautiful space and to see people’s reactions to his work was cathartic for me.  I remember growing up he would tell us to take a walk in the paintings; ‘Go in and see what you find.’ He taught me how to see, and it was gratifying to watch others do just that. Sometimes they would go really close, and I would tell them to take a few steps back to view all the layers and colors. Each time, they may see something different.” 

For Shira Malkin, the exhibition is the first chapter in a long-range project to get her father’s work better known in the United States. “There is already a buzz, and I want to take it to other places in the region, and beyond,” she says. “I like organizing and producing events as a scholar, and my father has left a wonderful legacy. This has been a combination of hope and hard work. Ultimately, I would like to one day have a Malkin Museum in this country.” 

Dr. Shira Malkin will give a tour of the exhibition this Saturday, Feb. 18, from 1 p.m. to 2 pm. at the Jay Etkin Gallery, 942 Cooper Ave.

(images courtesy of Dr. Shira Malkin)