No 2 (82) 2010
April - June

Anti-Semitism Suppressed

Kamil Kuskowski did not intend to make fun of his audiences, when he presented bare walls. Under the white paint coat, one can notice dark inscriptions showing through on the surface. The same kind as Goys scribble on the walls against the chosen people who used to live in this city.

Kazimierz Piotrowski

Art historian, curator, he publishes texts on contemporary art.

Kazimierz Piotrowski

I HAD HERE AN EASIER TASK THAN FOR JÓZEF ROBAKOWSKI, WHO SUSPECTED A JOKE. I visited the exhibition at the Eastern Gallery, after I had seen it at the M2 Gallery in Warsaw. I knew that the piece had won the Bielsko Autumn award. This has marked the beginning of the Anti- Semitism Suppressed journey around the world of art, where - as generally known - it was a frequent topic before the 2nd World War. While in the period of pogroms and after Auschwitz liberation, this art was naturally based on trauma, today this trend seems to be mechanical. The art of Holocaust has become a fragment of global ethics and education strategy, still rejected only by such barbarians as Ahmanadineżad. In Western civilizations, among most culturally cultivated people, artists dealing with this topic enjoy interest, understanding and profits. This involves a transfer of the sensitivity into the area of a habit, a ritual which is no longer reflective, but functions automatically.

Thus, Kuskowski has collected a handsome award in Bielsko Biała, and numerous congratulations. The sense of well being that he has placed himself on the morally right side (like Mirosław Bałka and Zbigniew Libera, after corrective interpretations) will not be disturbed by skeptical voices doubting the purpose of this minimalist work presenting, covered all over with the white paint, inscriptions: Jude raus (with a centrally placed swastika) and Jews eat children. Critics - though they do not longer believe in adding blood to matzo - can be pacified and labeled as suffering from chronic anti-Semitism. By the same token, the piece by Kuskowski must be received with approval since all attempts to question it can bring about wrong associations. The art dealing with Holocaust, even approaching it perversely, cannot be finally rejected, since one way or the other, it joins the world program of remembering this event. Providing the art does not propagate a negation approach - strongly prohibited, particularly in Germany and Austria - it is doomed to acceptance. An evidence being a perverted concept by Oskar Dawicki, who presented an ordinary sheet of paper with the declaration reading: I have never made any work on Holocaust. This has been enough to start immediate discussions on this piece of art and boast the very significant statement on Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.

While watching the streets in Łódź with their annual actions of painting over anti-Semitic slogans, I wondered if this suppression might possibly reveal a certain paradox. Since the campaign has been strongly advertised, it has become a cultural a priori. It imposes an attitude where every scribble on the wall is being interpreted as anti Jew. Since each year there are more and more such scribbles - resulting from the fact that front walls are not fully renovated - one is being confronted with a vast, phantom image of the anti-Semitism suppressed which takes over one's imagination. Perhaps the slogans should be painted over transparently, so as to show vague contours.

Where does this perverted suggestion come from? Lately, I have watched a lecture on Shoah by Yossef Ben Porate. One should study this type of religious interpretations in order top grasp how the tragedy has been received by Orthodox Jews. According to this rabbi, Shoah has been rooted in Torah - in the prophecies offered by Jahweh where he warned the chosen people against assimilation. Whenever the assimilation progressed - regardless whether it happened in the times of Esther and Haman, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Richard Wagner, or Trotsky and Hitler, Jews suffered and faced annihilation. When they remained true to the mission God had given them and preserved their religious and cultural identity, everything was in perfect order (according to Porate, Wagner was not afraid of the Orthodox, but of the assimilated). Under this Orthodox perspective, anti-Semitic slogans covered with a coat of paint obliterate Jewish identity. Jews, feeling safe, easily integrate with strangers and forget whom they are supposed to be for the mankind due to their religious mission.

Kamil Kuskowski, "Anti-Semitism Suppressed", the Eastern Gallery, Łódź, March 2010.