DRAWING AGAINST OBLIVION is grief work, remembering, art, a warning, empathy and work of feeling shame.
Manfred Bockelmann has created a large work. Large in format and extent and large in content and effect.
He calls the project “DRAWING AGAINST OBLIVION” and describes the process as “work of feeling shame”. For him, it’s about giving a face to at least a few numbers of the horror statistics and thus setting something lasting against the Nazi’s perfidious plan to rub them out completely. With the means of his art, he lifts the victims out of the darkness of being blocked out of memory and into the light, while subtly bringing home to the viewer the monstrosity of the Nazi’s crimes. “I don’t show martyrs and piles of corpses or maltreated creatures whose faces are marked by hunger, disease and exhaustion, robbed of their individuality. I show individuals whose ordeal was yet to come.” With this formal-aesthetic decision, Bockelmann follows a didactic concept. He knows that “no one can really identify with the atrocities. We can’t bear anything too horrendous and look away”. The portraits show “beautiful young people”, the horror only comes to the fore through the murderous context.
So who were the people that served as models for the artist in these powerful charcoal-on-coarse-jute portraits with an impressive 150 cm x 110 cm format? In Peter Turrini’s words: It is as if “all the horror and all the shame in the world comes crashing down on them”. They were children and youths, murdered by the henchmen of National Socialism between 1941 and 1945, because they were Jews, Slavs, Sinti or Romani, or suffered from physical or mental disabilities.
Bockelmann doesn’t differentiate between the groups of victims: in the exhibitions, portraits of Jewish children of different nationalities “hang” next to those of Romani, Sinti and Slav children. Between them, euthanasia victims. The exhibitions attract visitors from near and afar and, much to the joy of the artist, among them are many young people. For much depends on the younger generation. In many of the guided tours Manfred Bockelmann carries out for young groups, he explicitly addresses this: “I do this mainly for you. You are the future. You are my key addressees.” The youths thank him for it with their attentiveness, their thirst for knowledge and their respect. They react to the sobriety and authenticity of what is presented.