Mirroring Evil Revisited
Mirroring Evil Revisited took place at Utrecht University on March 22-24, 2018.
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 departed from earlier artistic events about the Holocaust in its focus on representations of perpetrators, and showcased a new generation of artists whose relation to Nazi crimes was primarily shaped through mass media and popular culture. Mirroring Evil has become key reference points for art history, Holocaust studies, museum education, and, more recently, the emerging field of perpetrator studies, and brought to the fore major questions which 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? How do artistic exhibitions interact with other social spaces and practices of Holocaust remembrance? Our workshop, “Mirroring Evil Revisited,” not only reflected on the legacy and relevance of the exhibition for today, it also opened up the discussion to include other traumatic legacies and contemporary issues.
The ethical issues of empathy, voyeurism, fascination and commodification raised in Mirroring Evil resonated strongly after 9/11 and the resulting “war on terror” at home and abroad. In the workshop and its follow-up projects we want to address these issues anew 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, but also issues such as free speech and education 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 only 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 we want to investigate further. Moreover, we want 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 project 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.