David Kassan’s exhibit “Facing Survival” opened Wednesday at the USC Fisher Museum of Art. “Facing Survival” is a series of paintings and VR video focusing on the lives of Holocaust survivors.

“The paintings in this exhibition follow a lineage of art as documentary from a different perspective,” Kassan said in a statement that greets attendees on a plaque. “My paintings engage the viewer in face-to-face conversation; they are visual representations and extensions of the service of testimony that Steven Spielberg and the USC Shoah Foundation fought hard to build.”

Each painted portrait is accompanied by a VR video of the subject. Attendees can ask the subject questions covering events from their childhood through the Holocaust.

Visitors interact with art at Kassan's exhibit,
Visitors interact with art at Kassan's exhibit, "Facing Survival." (Photo by Ling Luo)

One of Kassan’s students, Jenedy Paige, said that VR emphasized the uniqueness of her teacher’s paintings.

“I’ve been seeing the painting for years, and I could feel the specialness of it,” she said. “ But then I went over to the screen and I read these people’s stories and it just took that painting and elevated it to a whole new place. It's a story that takes the painting beyond a pretty picture.”

Focusing solely on the current lives of survivors provides an empowering exhibit honoring the strength of these individuals. Surviving the Holocaust is only one piece of the puzzle for the subjects of Kassan’s portraits.

The interior of the exhibit is accessible, and the colors invoke a feeling of warmth. Every wrinkle, crinkle, and smile line is clearly shown.

A quote featured in Kassan's exhibit,
A quote featured in Kassan's exhibit, "Facing Survival." (Photo by Ling Luo)

Paige attributed the attentiveness seen in his paintings to Kassan’s ability to “put his ego in the backseat.”

“I think that’s what makes him a particularly special artist, is he's all about trying to connect the viewer to the subject and create good,” she added.

Kassan’s gallery runs until December 7th at the USC Fisher Museum of Art.