When visiting Munich last week I also went to Dachau. Dachau concentration camp was the first of the Nazi concentration camps opened in Germany, intended to hold political prisoners. It is located about 16 km northwest of Munich.
There have been several discussions after WW2 regarding the possibility – or even the legitimacy – of making art after Holocaust.
In “Commitment,” his 1963 essay, the philosopher Theodor Adorno remarked that writing poetry in the deadly wake of Auschwitz would be “barbaric.” Since then, “after the Holocaust, no poetry” has become a kind of overriding moral mantra, with “poetry” encompassing not writing alone but standing for art in general.
But of course we didn’t stop making art. Because art and life is one, inseparable – and to some of us a life without art wouldn’t make sense at all.
But what about using Holocaust as material for art?
Visiting London earlier this summer I got to see several works by the French artist Eric Manigaud. In his series Portrait Clinique the artist has taken images from the State Care and Medical Facility in Weilmünster, in which physically and mentally ill Jewish patients were forcibly sterilized or starved under the Nazis, as motif. Through large drawings Eric Manigaud reproduce archival photographs on a scale proportionate to the artist’s body. Each image is minutely deciphered and copied in all its horrific detail.
ERIC MANIGAUD, PORTRAIT CLINIQUE #11 (2010) PENCIL AND GRAPHITE ON PAPER, 179 X 144 CM © THE SAATCHI GALLERY
Through giant enlargements Manigaud brings the images and thereby also the history much closer than what we are used to. It gets, one might say, emotionally too close – I suddenly get a feeling of being there, together with the victims – or could it be, even worse, that I am the assailant?
Eric Manigaud, Portrait Clinique #10 (2010) PENCIL AND GRAPHITE ON PAPER, 179 X 134 CM © The Saatchi Gallery
“The writer’s function,” said Albert Camus in his 1957 acceptance of the Nobel Prize in Literature, “is not without arduous duties. By definition, he cannot serve those who make history; he must serve those who are subject to it.” It seems to me that this is a quite precise description of Manigaud’s position.
ERIC MANIGAUD, born in 1971, lives and works in France. His hyper-realistic drawings reveal an unbelievable exquisite craftsmanship.