Bak on Bak title

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Exhibitions in Germany

In 1978 a Retrospective of my work was planned to take several years and to travel through ten German museums. I was torn between two opposing forces: my willingness to grant permission to show the work, and my reluctance, or rather my total unwillingness, to bring myself to revisit Germany. I never made it to Heidelberg's Museum to attend the show's first official debut.

shoeIt had taken me months to put aside the hampering feelings of guilt that were blocking me. I had to extract myself from what is commonly called "the survivor's syndrome," take my courage in both hands, and assume the role of an exhibiting artist whom the public wishes to meet.

Thus, due to the patient insistence of dedicated people who were later to become personal friends, I agreed to participate in a subsequent festive opening of my exhibition, this time in the German National Museum in Nuremberg. The opening took on the proportions of a state event. I stayed in a hotel that was not too far from the Museum. To get to the exhibition I chose to go on foot. Was this a form of penitence? Perhaps.

I had to walk along the notorious Nazi stadium that was now semi-destroyed. I knew it from old films of the Führer with the legions of his perfectly ordered men and his enthusiastic crowds. All of them continued to project themselves onto the screen of my mind. But also the faces of my murdered grandparents, uncles, aunts and father accompanied me on my way. I walked and I wept. When I finally arrived I had to explain to my hosts that a sudden allergic attack had caused the reddening of my eyes.Journey detail

It was on the day after the opening, when revisiting my show and stumbling on a visit of high school youngsters, that I learned something of value. Listening to a well-informed instructor and to the young people's interaction with him, I understood how important it had been to bring my art to that place. I was witness to a process of their coming to terms with a terrible past, a process that only courageous people undertake. Few people in other European countries have disclosed comparable bravery. Suddenly, letting my work be seen explicitly in the context of the Holocaust made a lot of sense. To my personal view my paintings became transformed by the walls of the German National Museum.

My works have always refrained from over-explicit imagery. Everything in them is transposed to an imaginary realm. This transposition must have worked well, because I heard it echoing in the souls of these young Germans, giving them access to a horrendous and until then unmentionable past, and stimulating their sensitive minds to new excursions of thought.

excerpted From: About Myself by Samuel Bak. By permission of The Pucker Gallery.

Bak photo
Painting the Subject of the Holocaust   ¦    BAK Introduction



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