Accomplished artist Hinda Avery expresses her deepest thoughts, fears and triumphs through her work. Best known for her Resisterrrz series, which premiered in 2011 at the Martin Batchelor Gallery, Hinda had an impact on the art world when the controversial pieces were unveiled.
These pieces, originally created as a tribute to family members lost during Hitler’s reign of terror, have grown to become a whimsical series and documentary, which addresses the impact of the holocaust on so many innocent people, as well as Hinda’s take on feminism.
Starting out as small, grey-scale pieces depicting the horror of concentration camps and life under Nazi control, the paintings grew in strength, colour and size as Hinda’s characters, the Resisterrrz, gained power and ultimately defeated Hitler. As the artist gained power, so too did her characters, originally modelled after her aunt, grandmother, mother, friends of the family and herself.
Hinda was born to a Jewish mother who fled Poland when the war began. Though not directly a victim, she was affected by her mother’s reluctance to assimilate into Canadian society, for fear of being persecuted for being Jewish.
“My mother didn’t know what was happening to her family members in Poland,” says Hinda. “She eventually realized her family had been killed, and she suffered tremendously from her experience. Unwittingly, she passed her trauma onto me. To her it was a very unsafe world where Jews were hated. Given her experience, that’s understandable, but in order to protect me, she passed on that message and that’s a pretty heavy burden for a child to carry around. That equals victimhood.”
Mentored by her mother’s best friend Leah, her surrogate mother of sorts, Hinda grew up with diverse political and social views that gave her courage and formed the basis for her feminist beliefs and push for equality across all walks of life. Leah’s daughter is one of the women in the Resisterrrz series. Of Leah, Hinda says, “she was a very humble, working class woman whose politics really resonated with me. I have a very deep respect for Leah, and now for her daughter. Both women have had a tremendous impact on my life because of their beliefs. They are my heroines.”
When Hinda visited many sites in Poland and Germany, she was unable to find any records of her family, so she decided she needed to paint them as a way of memorializing them.
“The process was a form of art therapy for me,” she says. “It was a way to connect with the murdered women. I had two photographs that I used, and I added myself and my late mother to the paintings. I then added more women and friends until I was painting very large groups.”
In the first of the series, the women were depicted as victims — naked, mournful and lost. The group, including the grandmother and aunt she’d never known, were painted as frail, worn-down characters. As time went on, Hinda gave her characters new life and reduced the number to the key six women. The six got dressed, and grew stronger, less fearful, while the Nazi men slowly became cartoonish and small. By the end of the series, the paintings themselves are larger than life, the colours vibrant and outlandish, with Hitler, himself, being scorned by the Resisterrrz.
This was Hinda’s way of fighting back, not only against the regime that fractured her family, but against the idea that women are helpless. This was also her way of paying homage to the true resisters, the brave men and women who stood up to the Nazi regime in any way they could, often stopping at nothing and sacrificing themselves for the good of others.
Resisters in prison camps incited violent riots, armed themselves with Molotov cocktails, and helped escapees to hide out in farmhouses or underground drainage systems, and somehow found the strength to fight Nazi soldiers, despite being days from death due to starvation and disease.
“The whole thing was a fantasy, and it took me out of being a victim into being a resister, just like them,” says Hinda. “Even though it was all make-believe, I still went through the process in the paintings, and had I been in Poland during the war, I like to think I would have been a resister.”
Originally, she didn’t want to try to include Hitler at all, but as the women grew stronger, he became less of an opposing force, and more of a caricature.
“It was not easy for me to paint that man, but after a while, I found it was oddly enjoyable because I could do whatever I wanted with him. In my film, he’s all green. I had an art critic describe it as ‘puke green,’” Hinda says with a satisfied chuckle.
In the final painting, titled Der Fuhrer, the larger-than-life characters boot Hitler into space. The series has now been turned into a film, Hinda and her Sisterrrz, and is being shown at Film Festivals across North America, including Toronto and San Francisco.
The film was directed by Michael Kissinger and is about the evolution of the work, and how it changed and evolved with each series. It features Baila, the chosen protagonist of her series. Baila is an amalgamation of all the women, a force to be reckoned with, and the character chosen to represent the lost “Rosen Sisters.”
A retired Women’s Studies professor at a number of British Columbia universities, including UBC, Hinda is a strong advocate for human rights. She achieved a Doctorate degree and went on to teach for many years, while steadfastly immersing herself in the world of art.
“I’ve always wanted to be an artist,” she says. “When I retired, that gave me the opportunity to do the art work I loved so much because I had the energy and the time.”
Hinda believes feminism should mean equality for all, and has stood by this belief her whole adult life. In light of the current political climate, she wants to spread knowledge and to help educate others about women’s rights.
“I was very active in the women’s movement in the ’60s-’80s, and have not wavered at all. I attended the Women’s March in Victoria and it gave me a lot of hope, but we have a long way to go until our roles are more androgynous.”
Having visited Scandinavian countries for conferences, Hinda has noticed a distinct difference between North American women and Scandinavian women.
“I find that they are far ahead of us,” she says. “There are equal numbers in parliament, the sciences, architecture, and engineering. Women even walk a little differently in those countries. Their walk is a more confident walk.”
Hinda continues to focus her art on the empowerment of women and is now creating a comic titled Bayla’s Issues. Destined to be an oversized graphic novel and eventually an animated film, the series features Bayla, a strong, proud, middle-aged woman. This project explores the problems faced by many senior women: growing old in a culture that values youth and physical appearance; invisibility; striving for recognition without having the necessary means or energy; and the fact that time is quickly slipping away — all a far cry from the typical depiction of over-sexualized feminine characters in most comics and graphic novels.
“I’m very disturbed about the way women are portrayed in popular media — magazines, comic books. There are no images of strong-looking women in comic books, or in films,” says Hinda. “I think the problem with the portrayal of women in media is that they’re strong independent women, but they’re still sexualized. Their appearance is more about their looks than about their abilities or attitude.”
Not that Hinda is anti-male, she simply believes in equality and role-sharing, as well as gender neutrality where one doesn’t have to play a feminine or masculine role.
“I personally feel that other than biological differences, there really aren’t many differences between men and women,” she says.
In addition to her art, Hinda uses her years of experience and knowledge to continue to educate herself and others on current-events issues. She is also an animal rights activist and spends a lot of time advocating against factory farms and medical experiments on animals.
She’s on the board of the BC Foundation for Non-Animal Research, and is working with the board to encourage medical professionals to use alternative means of testing. Between her art and activism work, Hinda divides her time between her homes in Vancouver and Victoria.