Kaddish is the mourner's prayer of the Jews, requesting eternal bliss for the deceased and peace for all who mourn. The Kaddish is an integral part of the daily service; while the recently bereaved recite Kaddish for a specific relative, all Jews recite Kaddish for all who went before.
From this Kaddish, familiar territory of his background, Mauricio Lasansky, artist, hones echo into statement, the Jew into all man. Lasansky's Kaddish, a series of eight intaglio prints, appeared ten years after the Nazi Drawings, his statement of Nazi destruction and degradation. In 1978, the Argentine-born 62 year-old Lasansky completed his answer of peace and survival, his Kaddish prints.
The series, which took three years to produce, is the result of a lifetime of intaglio experimentation. Seemingly straightforward, the Kaddish prints are technically complex. While shape, size and subject matter are unifying elements, the prints offer a continuing variation in technique and color. Etching, engraving, soft-ground, aquatint and other techniques are combined in the multi-plate prints, which have as many as 40 separate pieces in a single mage, meticulously fitted together like a puzzle. Each technique lends its unique voice to the complexity of the whole, creating a range from aquatint's velvety black, atmospheric qualities of space, to the delicate and fragile drypoint line.
It is always possible to stand before a work of art, to receive, and to be moved, without discussion. This is true of the Kaddish prints, as of all of Lasansky's works. However, for the first time in his artistic career, some discussion of iconography and metaphor may not be out of order. While Lasansky uses motifs that are accessible to most people the white dove, the phylacteries he consciously mixes religious symbolism. Perhaps the explanation for this lies in his feelings for the universality of man and his fate. Jew, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, in the end we are all the same, Lasansky states. We suffer the same anguish, we enjoy the same hope.
Several motifs are repeated in the series: the obvious compositional division, the dove, the numbers, the masks. The images in the bottom of the prints appear to span the range of human terrestrial experience, while the dove, a traditional Christian symbol of peace, dominates the illusive space of the top half. The white dove is a repeated symbol in seven of the prints; in #6, however, it has become dark. The seven white doves are perched in positions or in flight. The dark one squats securely, seemingly with no intention of flight, on the white head of an old man. His face is the only one of all eight human images that is totally open and vulnerable to the viewer. His eyes look at us with complete honesty; he has put all his cards on the table, he hides nothing.
Who are these images, most of them over life size? Victim as survivor, survivor as victim. This is probably one of the most compelling understandings to surface from these prints. Lasansky feels that we are all, at one time or another, touched by this reality, that we are all marked and/or masked. The series begins with the self-portrait (the only image not larger than life size) possessing the double markings of tefillin (phylacteries) and the stigmata, and Lasansky's visual conception that Christ, too, was marked. Among us there are victims and survivors of every kind: the old and honest (#6), the innocent (#4), those who attempt to hide their limitations as does the disturbing image of the clown mask, eyeless, unable to see and probably not wanting to. Finally, there are those who attempt to hide their evil and shame, like the tefillined nazi in the skull helmet, eyes covered, victim of the beast within him, survivor who must live with his shame. The eyes of his victims, crossing the top border of the print, continue to haunt him.
Most of the faces are somehow obscured and/or protected, with masks or hands or helmets. Even the child, whose eyes are not covered, seems almost safe in the overwhelming protection of garland and flowers. While at first we hope that innocence is not marked, we find the treacherous numbers embossed in the margin of the print.
What of these numbers, 6,102,301 through 6,102,308, indelibly marked across all eight prints? Haunting reminders of the Nazi camps, they recall and extend that overwhelming figure, the six million who disappeared.
Before us we have a series of eight images celebrating the hope and mortality of man. Despite atrocities that have destroyed the human body and soul, despite our natural, imposed and self-imposed markings, despite our shortcomings and limitations, in the end we are survivors. With our allotment of peace, we are left to forge ahead, not daring to forget the past, for the sake of the future. It is the survivors who recite Kaddish.
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