Bianca Idelson reviews an exhibition by Heidrun Thate at the Sacripante Gallery, in Rome.
Heidrun Thate, born in Germany but living in France for more than twenty years, paints Hitler's figure - with constancy, refinement, and even obstinacy - in the colours of a deliberately exaggerated range of the most unnatural fruit candies she can imagine, ranging from candy pink, to a greenish fake salad, to a red that's redder than strawberries. One could say: it's Hitler, dreamed in supermarket style.
Heidrun captures the signs of the times, pervaded by nostalgic aspirations towards a world that would like to see its own security guaranteed through regulations, restrictions, prescription codes ... and expressess it through the colours of pop candy, exposing its incredibility.
Colour and thematic choices thus succeed in making us perceive, lurking around the corner of the image, a paternal and protective Hitler, and make us guess that historiography had a dysfunctional effect in depicting the dictator as a monster.
It seems that the artist wonders up to what point each of us could hide aspects, attitudes and tendencies of that unhealthy type, for example in the paintings in which Hitler seems to perfectly caricature aspects of human kindness towards children and women, stuffed with good manners and gentlemanly attitudes. The absurd colour makes us perceive all the deception of the staging, and the human and cultural squalor hidden under the cloak of an arrogant admiration of himself, a man built by the machine of delirious political doctrines and propaganda (now called spin doctors) but nourished and supported by a perverse narcissism.
Today more than ever, in the deafening and blinding noise of social networks, Heidrun Thate reminds us that the danger of a collective delusion of non-perception is always present, in all of us. She speaks of American soldiers arrived in front of the horror of the concentration camp of Buchenwald, who could not believe that the inhabitants of Weimar, (known as Goethe's home and birthplace of German constitutional democracy) only eight kilometers away, had never perceived the acrid smell of burnt human flesh that constantly came out of the ovens - and how those soldiers brought the population to see the incredible atrocity. Which they would not look at - historical photographs show the inhabitants of Weimar in Buchenwald, with their eyes covered by the fingers, so that they could not see.
A similar blindness seems to affect some youth groups, according to a 2018 survey by CNN carried out in seven European countries, but broadly comparable with other research in the U.S. It turns out that about 20% of the young people interviewed have no knowledge of the extermination of Jews under Hitler: the highest numbers are found in some countries like France and Austria. Yet the number of young people who have visited concentration camps has increased over the past two years to two million per year.
It is easy to understand how the lack of historical knowledge softens the critical abilities of voters: in this way the political language that seeks shortcuts to consensus by exploiting insecurities and fears and turning them into aggression and hatred, is simplified. This is what happened in some European countries in the recent EU elections, and in the United States, with the election of Trump.
Heidrun Thate, with her slashing strokes of sharp candy-coloured images brings out the rightful, ridiculous truth in these characters.