Germanic Guilt Symbols, 1987 - 1991
The major themes in this series confront personal issues surrounding my cultural heritage, growing up in post World War II America as a child of European immigrants of German ancestry. I have attempted to layer the negative cultural issues and stereotypes associated with Germanic culture with metaphors and symbols surrounding broader concepts of political and personal security and/or fear.
My parents immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio in early 1952 the year I was born. As a child I was conscious and frankly embarrassed when confronted with the overwhelming and deservedly negative stereotypical representation of German culture as one of “the enemy”, evil and defeated. At home, I frequently heard the references to the “Batschka,” a region near Bosnia where my family’s ancestral home was located, and the “Donau Swabians” who were Bavarian Germans that migrated down the Danube River to settle in Yugoslavia. But I naively thought they were merely referring to regions in Germany. I did not realize, until I was a young adult that my parents were not originally from Germany at all, but ethnic Germans who for more than 100 years occupied the Batschka region of Yugoslavia. I discovered my parents had never lived in Germany until they were displaced after WW II.
This inspired me to investigate concepts surrounding personal and cultural security and fear. This interest was fueled by several synchronistic events including the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of WW II, and the 150th anniversary of the settling of the Donau Swabians in Yugoslavia. The primary source of imagery for this series was appropriated from the haunting propaganda and documentary photographs of Nazi Germany. These frequently frightening and horrific Germanic images are combined and tissued with shapes and colors that serve as symbols and metaphors of cultural security and fear - the usurping of one’s personal identity, home, culture or government.
Many of the issues in this work were the seeds for the ideas surrounding “cultural blindness.” I want this work to evoke the genuine danger of a government left unchecked and the betrayal of one’s culture and identity through extremist nationalism. This work serves as a reminder of the innocent victims of the atrocities of unchecked extremism. This type of cultural blindness, where people ignore what they are seeing in favor radical nationalism, racial extremism and excessive governmental authority is still present in our world today. This work serves an a mnemonic warning sign, stressing the criticality of maintaining one’s individual identity, moral compass and a compassionate belief system in spite of external social pressures and political extremism.