Israeli-born, French artist Hedva Ser recently visited the Million Dollar Sandbar to partake in Art Basel festivities, however the artist’s passion for Miami Beach goes far beyond this brief sojourn. Ms. Ser was kind enough to sit down with me to tell me about her art, her peace activism and her vision for Miami Beach.
Ser feels a deep connection to Miami Beach; the sea reminds her of her early days as a painter in Brittany, while the strong Jewish community “brings her back to her family.” Ser is the descendant of Holocaust survivors, and her most recent work is an exhibition in Krakow, Poland, 1 hour from Auschwitz, addressing the destruction and reconstruction of the Jewish community. Ser, designated an UNESCO Artist for Peace in 2011, envisions a future in which she says, “Miami Beach will be the active laboratory of peace.”
Ser has experienced great success as an artist; she began as a painter, and later transitioned into tapestries, jewelry and sculpture. The artist is particularly proud of reviving and revolutionizing the French tapestry tradition of Aubusson. In fact, while exhibiting her tapestries at Harvard University’s Dudley House more than twenty years ago, Ser met Ivonne A-Baki, now a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and formerly Ecuadorian Ambassador to the United States. The two connected, and a shared vision of peace was born: “Peace through women of art.”
Today, Ser sees herself as a sculptor primarily because it is the only medium which allows her to, as she says, “send all the messages she has for peace.” Ser’s sculptural work is truly moving; her Tree of Peace, first inaugurated in 2007 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has since been installed in locations around the world.
The Tree of Peace carries symbolism which harkens to Christianity, Judaism and Islam, embodying the work’s ideals of “life, peace and freedom.” UNESCO has adopted Ser’s Tree of Peace as the organization’s symbol of peace.
In the artist’s words, “It brings peace to you.” This is true both literally and figuratively. The sculpture is serene, stirring thought and consideration, while more actively it concretizes peace and confronts the viewer, inspiring dialogue, which Ser describes simply yet profoundly as, “the most important thing.” In 2011, UNESCO designated Ser an Artist for Peace. She considers her selection an honor and a tremendous responsibility. Ser said, “I have always felt my art is in the service of peace,” and this position has afforded her an even grander stage upon which to pursue her life-long mission of peace through art.
Earlier this year, Ser served as what she likes to call, “godmother,” of the 3rd annual UNESCO Art Camp held in the small, land-locked country of Andorra, nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains. The Art Camp brought together artists from 37 countries, and this year Ser insisted the Camp focus on countries in conflict, which proved remarkably successful. Event participants created three canvases, one of which will stay in the host town of Ordino, while the other two will travel the world to gain international support for the cause.
Ser would like to see Miami Beach host a satellite Art Camp event in the future, and perhaps serve as a sister city. In addition to Ser’s more personal connection to the Beach, she finds the parallelism between Miami Beach and the country of Andorra remarkable. In Ser’s words, “Here we are surrounded by water; there we are surrounded by mountains. Both are privileged places.” Furthermore, not only would Ser like to install a Tree of Peace in Miami Beach, she would like to see the city move, “from one Tree of Peace to a forest.”
Ser is a living testament to her work; at our meeting, she donned Tree of Peace jewelry and brought along a miniature of the sculpture. Ser’s commitment to peace is admirable and inspiring, and I for one am excited for the artist’s vision for Miami Beach. In concluding our meeting, Ser remarked, “This is my role—not to make decorative things, but things with meaning. This will be my legacy.” Ser has accomplished all of the above, and though her goal may not be the production of “decorative things,” her work is both breathtaking and overflowing with meaning.