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Perpetrator Studies Network


22 - 24 March 2018
Drift 23 and 21, Utrecht University

Workshop: Mirroring Evil Revisited

Organized by Susanne C. Knittel (Utrecht University) and Stéphanie Benzaquen-Gautier (Erasmus University Rotterdam)

The controversial and groundbreaking exhibition Mirroring Evil, which opened at the Jewish Museum in New York City in 2002, brought together a range of contemporary artworks revolving around Nazi imagery. The exhibition and the accompanying catalogue have become key reference points for art history, Holocaust studies, museum education, and, more recently, the emerging field of perpetrator studies. The major questions addressed by the exhibition at the time are still debated today: What role does art play vis-à-vis the memory of the Holocaust and other stories of extreme violence? How do museums curate “difficult knowledge”? How can we teach about perpetrators through visual and artistic media?

This two-day workshop will not only reflect on the legacy and relevance of the exhibition for today, it will also open up the discussion to include other traumatic legacies and contemporary issues. It will bring together some key figures involved in the original exhibition and the catalogue (Roee Rosen, Zbigniew Libera, Lisa Saltzman, Ernst van Alphen) alongside a younger generation of international artists, curators, educators and art historians (Diana Popescu, Maria Hlavajova, Mirjam Wenzel, Annemiek Gringold, Pascale Bos, Alasdair Richardson, Marc van Berkel) to discuss issues such as empathy, voyeurism, fascination, and commodification in the context of the current refugee crisis, the radicalization of society, and the worrisome “un-democratization” happening in parts of the Western world. Concepts such as evil, ordinariness, and banality need to be critically revisited taking into account our transformed relation to mass media, images, and the pervasive visual representation of extreme violence, due to advanced technologies of communication and the rise of participatory forms of activism and citizenship.

Holocaust education is slowly picking up on these developments. While there is substantial work on Holocaust education and Holocaust art respectively, there is comparatively little work exploring the connections between the two. These are precisely these connections the project aims to investigate further. Moreover, it aims to go beyond the historical and geographic scope of the original exhibition by considering representations of other genocides and acts of mass violence. This includes not only iconic images of perpetrators of the genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Yugoslavia, Indonesia, etc., as well as, of course, artworks about totalitarian dictators more generally, but also representations of international terrorism, drone warfare, and potential war crimes perpetrated by Western democratic perpetrators.

A guiding principle behind the workshop is a commitment to interdisciplinarity and “multidirectionality,” i.e. we take a comparative approach, exploring how certain modes of representation of perpetrators travel across national, cultural, and historical boundaries. This includes the re-importation of non-Holocaust iconography into the representation of Nazi perpetrators.

For more information please contact Susanne C. Knittel (s.c.knittel@uu.nl).