This essay on Samuel Bak is dedicated to The Association of Jews from Vilna and Vicinity in Israel.
Three artworks by the artist Samuel Bak may serve as a metaphor to the continuous Weltschmerz experienced by humanity.
Bak is a survivor of the Holocaust but his soul keeps searching for the inexplicable, when confronting the effects and after effects of this event.
I took the liberty to join the artist in a virtual journey through three works, which I find to be of capital meaning.
“The Family”(1974), “The Journey” (1991), “Elegy III” (1996)
On Victims and Victimizers
The faces or what have been faces belong to the family of survivals of the holocaust.
An allegory to all victims of all times who are killed because of their different race, color, faith and particular idiosyncrasies, which turns them nearly automatically into the killing target of other groups with dissimilar race, color , faith and particular idiosyncrasies.
Holocausts are a trait of the human being. All communities had been assassinated by other so called human communities, along history on basis of a fundamental feeling of hatred (Native American, Romani people, Jews, Armenians, Curds, Africans….)
The dialectics between victims and victimizers is extremely entangled as the victims of yesterday can easily become the victimizers of today.
Hatred, anger and revenge avoid envisaging the other within a wide spectrum of colors.
These attributes forcefully enslave the mind and soul by granting a monolithic vision of the world, dominated only by fictitious black versus white.
Hatred, anger and revenge cannot perceive anymore the individual as a unique and non-repetitive living phenomenon, participating in the great advent of Being.
The victim always pertains to the wrong side of community and thus, is judged because and as a result of his/ her ethnic or social Belonging.
In “The Family” forlorn faces are positioned in separation, fragmented, some hidden by dirty cloth of impure white, some look like misused sculptures, forming parts of irrelevant canvases, they are mute, non-communicative, both haunted and haunting by their lifeless expression, as if they formed part of a still life exercise.
Similarly to James Ensor and Jean Dubuffet human hoards, victims as victimizers lose the soul, vehemently turning into a collective humanity with no personal features.
“The Family” may remind each of us to erase any bit of collective prejudice, so as not to lose the face of Humanity.
The Loss of Personal Identity, the non-communication with the world.
According to Judeo-Christian-Moslem tradition, the ark is associated with the Biblical account of Noah’s Ark.
Humanity has become too vicious and God repents of his creation, resolved to erase all living men, except the righteous Noah and the animals.
A deadly flood then covers the Earth. Noah’s ark and all dwellers are saved. An arc in the sky appears symbolizing the covenant of God with the creatures; accordingly no other flood would destroy the Earth.
Bak’s “The Journey” depicts a sort of an ark which has not survived the fatal delude of human holocaust. There are no remaining creatures on board. The barren belly of the ship is filled with the replica of Vilna’s ruined houses and two giant smoking chimneys, uttering the last manifestation of the burnt corpses. The chimneys made out of cracked stone might also be associated with the two fundamental columns of the old Temple in Jerusalem – Boaz and Joachim, symbolizing Divine Harmony. The tablets of the Commandments are thrust among the desolated relics; the debris of the Star of David is placed on the front of the ship, a floating deserted graveyard.
Nature does not side with the tragic events; Sea and sky do not bring any signal of future salvation, waters above and below are immersed in unending toxic grayness.
The anonymity of victimizers and victims avoid any possible communication with Nature, as exploring Nature is the ability to be part of the infinite phenomena of transient essence.
Non-communication with the World, Non-communication with the Divine Hatred, Anger and Revenge cause the loss of personal identity resulting in the disastrous loss of vivacity.
A black hole in consciousness then starts to take form magnetizing more and more negativity.
The spirit of Loss becomes gradually preponderant, the non-communication with the World, avoiding any possibility to sense or explore the Divine Realm.
Bak follows Albrecht Durer’s “Melancholia”.
The Angel, God’s messenger, sits in a forsaken landscape, the building utensils are out of use and the ghost of the lifeless little Jewish boy is crucified on the remainder of a stoned house.
The arc, conveying Salvation, is here a lost part of what has been once whole.