After acclaimed local artist Bunny Burson uncovered more than 100 letters revealing a moving family history in Nazi Germany, she decided to turn the words of love, desperation and hope into HIDDEN in Plain Sight, an art exhibition on view through June 30 at Bruno David Gallery.
During a June 21 gallery event hosted by the Jewish Federation’s Ben Gurion Society, Burson will speak about the featured letters, which chronicle her grandparents’ attempts to leave Germany and then Latvia after sending their children to the United States in 1938.
Burson recently spoke to Ladue News, offering more insight into the exhibition and her distinguished art career, which has included working as the executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities during the Clinton-Gore administration while her husband, Charles Burson, served as a legal counsel and chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore.
LN: Tell us about HIDDEN in Plain Sight.
BB: I stumbled across a stash of about 100 letters from my grandparents to my mother and my uncle that were written from 1939 to 1941. I wanted to give them a voice and to give them a legacy. The big installation piece is about home—what is home and where is home. It shows how even if you’re displaced, you can still create a home.
LN: What message do you hope people take from the exhibit?
BB: The end message is resilience. Each situation presents a generation with a different set of issues. I learned a lot from seeing how my grandparents dealt with the issues that confronted them.
LN: Did you always want to be an artist?
BB: I have always thought of myself as an artist. I started taking art lessons as a child.
LN: What mediums do you typically work with?
BB: I’m a print-maker. I love all the different processes in printmaking. There are so many ways—traditional and non-traditional— to experiment and have surprises, and I’m always trying to push the envelope.
LN: Tell us about your experience working on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities during the Clinton- Gore administration.
BB: There was one particular project that was the gift that kept on giving—helping Dance Theater of Harlem participate in the International Dance Festival in Beijing and Shanghai in 2000. When I moved to St. Louis, I met a dancer who had trained at COCA and learned he was part of the group who performed in China. He said it changed his life. He is a professional dancer for Alvin Ailey now. He hopes to move back to St. Louis and give back to young people for the next part of his career.
LN: Describe your involvement with The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital?
BB: I was involved with starting the Arts + Healthcare program. Artists donate art, musicians perform in the hospital’s lobbies and patients express their fears and hopes through journal painting that is displayed at the hospital.
LN: Some of your past shows have focused on political art, particularly the outcome of the 2000 presidential election. Do you plan to do any art inspired by the upcoming election?
BB: I think it is important for artists to be involved in the political process. In the past, I have done work for The Missouri Billboard Project’s Art the Vote. This year, I will continue to be part of the election, I’m just not sure how yet.
LN: After this exhibition, what’s next?
BB: I’m not done with this subject yet. I’m going to use the same letters and newspapers that I have found in an archive. I hope to make it even more multimedia.