Thursday, December 17, 2020

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

 Fly in League with the Night at Tate Britain

Lynette Yiadom-Boakye
A Passion Like No Other (2012) 
Collection of Lonti Ebers  © Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

NY Times: Lynette Yiadom-Boakye's Subjects Are All in Her Head

“Going from the sense of trying to illustrate an idea, to allowing the paint to bring something to life, or thinking about painting as a language in itself — that was the major shift”

Tate: Exhibition Guide

"I learned how to paint from looking at painting and I continue to learn from looking at painting. In that sense, history serves as a resource. But the bigger draw for me is the power that painting can wield across time.

"I work from scrapbooks, I work from images I collect, I work from life a little bit, I seek out the imagery I need. I take photos. All of that is then composed on the canvas. [This lets me] really think through the painting, to allow these to be paintings in the most physical sense, and build a language that didn’t feel as if I was trying to take something out of life and translate it into painting, but that actually allowed the paint to do the talking."

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Further Readings on Homosexuals, Holocaust and History

Unknown Photographer,
Prisoners in the Concentration Camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany (1938), 
US National Archive of Foreign Records

My reading to further explore this photo from Sachsenhausen continues (see also this post from August 2020 with earlier books). 

Who are these people? 

What was their experience before and after this photograph was taken? 

Have they told their own stories? 

How have others used this as part of their artistic process?

More Books

[These are listed in the order in which I read them, with the most recently read book first. "Read" is a relative term, for example, Homosexuelle Männer im KZ Sachsenhause is 378 pages of German. I used Google Translate to read the essay on Richard Grune. Perhaps I'll tackle more from that in the future. This book is completely on topic for the photo.]

Harlan Greene: The German Officer's Boy (2005) WorldCat

Stephen Koch: Hitler's Pawn, The Boy Assassin and the Holocaust (2019) WorldCat

Andreas Sternweiler and Joachim Müller, editors: Homosexuelle Männer im KZ Sachsenhausen / Homosexual Men in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp (2000) WorldCat

Jurgen Lemke, editor: Gay voices from East Germany / Ganz Normal Anders (1991) WorldCat

Ken Setterington: Branded by the Pink Triangle (2013) WorldCat

Lannon Reed: Behold a Pale Horse, a novel of homosexuals in the Nazi holocaust (1985) WorldCat

Tom Stoppard: Leopoldstadt (2020) WorldCat

Martin Amis: Time's Arrow (1991) WorldCat

Marc David Baer: German, Jew, Muslim, Gay, The Life and Times of Hugo Marcus (2020) WorldCat

Judy Chicago: Holocaust Project: From Darkness Into Light (1993) WorldCat

Berel Lang: Primo Levi, The Matter of A Life (2013) WorldCat

Isabel Wilkerson: Caste (2020) WorldCat

Thank You to Libraries

Several of these books were borrowed from the Chicago Public Library and the Gerber Hart Library and Archives

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Meditation Redux - Seminal Works

 Revisiting Teachers and Teachings

Larry Wolf, Personal Buddhist History (2020)

I'm looking at the journey that got me here, reexamining some of the stepping stones of my journey with Buddhism. The ones here have survived, in some form, on my book shelf going back to 1970 with Siddhartha. The year before, I read  Maugham's The Razor's Edge during the summer I turned 18. Others by Hesse (Demian, Steppenwolf) were read a couple of years earlier in high school.

The books are roughly in the order they read. As I revisit them over the next several months, I'm sure other titles will surface, ones I have and ones to track down. Some of these may get commentary. For now, here's the list.

Hermann Hesse - Siddhartha

Suzuki Roshi - Zen Mind Beginners Mind

Chogyam Trungpa -  Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (not here because my copy was falling apart), Myth of Freedom, Shambhala

Jack Kornfield - A Path With Heart

Thich Nhat Hanh - Peace Is Every Step

Bernie Glassman - Instructions to the Cook, Bearing Witness

Pema Chodron - The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are

Clark Strand - Wooden Bowl

Sue Bender - Everyday Sacred

Shantideva - The Way of the Bodhisattva

Koshein Payley Ellison & Matt Weingast (eds) - Awake at the Bedside

Larry Yang - Awakening Together

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche - In Love With The World

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Be Queer

You Can Be Anything You Want As Long As Your're Queer

October 11 is National Coming Out Day.  The right day to finally post this.

Nat Pyper, GB Jones Poster (2019)

Larry Wolf, You Can Be Anything Queer (2020)
I've had this poster on the wall behind me for months. I picked it up at last year's Chicago Art Book Fair. It is an encouragement to be who I am, whoever that is, however that changes. 

I like that the font is a shout out to the character cell graphics of the 1970s and 80s with their low res monitors and dot matrix printers. It is also the font of movie theater marques using individual bulbs to create the letters.

The font is a bit hard to read, so that the message can be hidden in plain sight and while it is pretty visible on my video calls, very few people stop and ask me what it says. 

The Source Film

GJ Jones, The Lollipop Generation (2008)

The quote is from GB Jones. The font is from their 2008 film The Lollipop Generation

G. B. Jones’ The Lollipop Generation is a film about runaway queer kids, a gang of lollipop-eating social misfits let loose on the streets of Toronto. They stumble into drugs, danger, and prostitution, and inhabit an underground culture infused with a pervasive yet innocent kind of sleaze. Seasoned with a bottom-up punk aesthetic and a good handful of homemade porn, the film presents an altogether refreshing critique of the stultifying norms of convention.

The Font

Nat Pyper on Instagram (November 16, 2019)
Nat Pyper ( created the complete font as part of their Queer Year of Love Letters.

A Queer Year of Love Letters is a series of fonts that remembers the lives and work of countercultural queers of the past several decades. The series aims to make the act of remembering these overlooked and illegitimate histories accessible to other people, as easy as typing. Better yet: it aims to make the act of typing an act of remembering. That these fonts might be considered typefaces is incidental. They are an attempt to improvise a clandestine lineage, an aspatial and atemporal kind of queer kinship, through the act of writing.

I began making these fonts in order to rapidly document and disseminate the work and ideas that they cite. I pack these histories, or part of them, into fonts for a couple of reasons. First, font files are durable. OpenType fonts (.OTFs) have persisted in their ubiquity since the late '90s and maintain their utility as a nimble and reliable format. Second, fonts have the capacity to contain a hefty amount of information within a tiny package. In under 100 kilobytes, an entire alphabet! In the font’s metadata, a manifesto! Fonts then function as a useful format for ferrying information from one place to another.

Nat Pyper (2018) 

My Desktop Wallpaper

I have a print of Lee Marmon's Laguna Eagle Dancers on my wall from the National Museum of the American Indian. Seen quickly, the eagles are soaring. Looking at their shadows, the humans are clearly present. The photo is my current wallpaper, visible behind the browser. 

Lee Marmon, Laguna Eagle Dancers (1949)

Friday, October 9, 2020

An Extraordinarily Lucky Survivor

Christopher and His Kind

I first read this book in 1977, during a euphoric time when the radicalism of Gay Liberation from the 1969 Stonewall Riot was going mainstream. People who had been openly gay to only a small circle of friends and family were going public. 

I was 25, just a year older than Christopher Isherwood was when he arrived in Berlin in 1929. I was looking optimistically ahead. I did not see the coming waves of attach (political backlash, the AIDS pandemic) that would come in the next decade; nor did Christopher Isherwood know what would be coming in the ten years this memoir covers.

Christopher Isherwood revisits his 1935 and 1939 novels, Mr Norris Changes Trains and Goodbye to Berlin, which were the basis for I Am a Camera and Cabaret. Those novels, the play, musical and movies, have become a window into Wiemar Germany. However, they show a fictionalized story. In this memoir, Christopher Isherwood gives us their names and genders, placing his own homosexual coming-of-age and rapid maturing, front and center. The first half of the book is set mainly in Berlin. In the second half, Christopher and his lover Heinz, are traveling Europe in a futile attempt to find safe haven from the reign of terror which had become Germany. 

The selections below tell us of his excitement on first going to Berlin and then the desperate times that follow.

[March, 1929]

The book I am now going to write will be as frank and factual as I can make it, especially as far as I myself am concerned. ... I shall begin at the point where the earlier book ends: twenty-four-year-old Christopher's departure from England on March 14, 1929, to visit Berlin for the first time in his life.
Page 1

It was Berlin itself he was hungry to meet; the Berlin Wystan [W. H. Auden] had promised him. To Christopher, Berlin meant Boys.
Page 2

Christopher Isherwood's first lodging was next door to the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, Institute of Sex Research, run by Dr Hirschfeld, where Christopher joined the staff for lunch. 

Dr. Hirschfeld seldom ate with them. He was represented by Karl Giese, his secretary and long-time lover.
Page 15 

While Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code criminalized homosexual behavior, there was very limited prosecution.

The Berlin police “tolerated” the bars. No customer risked arrest simply for being in them. When the bars were raided, which didn't happen often, it was only the boys who were required to show their papers. Those who hadn't any or were wanted for some crime would make a rush to escape through a back door or window as the police came in.
Page 30

[March, 1933]

Any tolerance or possibility of decriminalization of homosexual behavior had ended with the Campaign for a Clean Reich in February 1933.

Most of Christopher’s Jewish friends had left Germany or were about to leave. Dr. Hirschfeld had been away on a world tour since 1930. The tour had ended in France, where he remained, knowing that it would be fatal for him to return. Karl Giese had joined him there.


During the past year, politics had increasingly divided the bar boys. They had joined one or another of the street gangs which were encouraged, though not always officially recognized, by the Nazis or the Communists or the Nationalists. Now the non-Nazis were in danger, but many of them changed sides and were accepted. If you did get beaten up, it was more likely to be because you had a private enemy; this was a great opportunity to settle old scores. 
Boy bars of every sort were being raided, now, and many were shut down. Christopher had lost touch with Karl Giese's friends. No doubt the prudent ones were scared and lying low, while the silly ones fluttered around town exclaiming how sexy the Storm Troopers looked in their uniforms. He knew only one pair of homosexual lovers who declared proudly that they were Nazis. Misled by their own erotic vision of a New Sparta, they fondly supposed that Germany was entering an era of military man-love, with all women excluded. They were aware, of course, that Christopher thought them crazy, but they dismissed him with a shrug. How could he understand? This wasn't his homeland . . . No, indeed it wasn't. Christopher had realized that for some time already. But this tragic pair of self-deceivers didn't realize — and wouldn't, until it was too late — that this wasn't their homeland, either.
Page 124 - 125

[June 1937]

Christopher and Heinz spent four years traveling Europe, seeking a safe haven. In 1937, Heinz had to return to Germany where he was arrested for avoiding reporting for military service.

Heinz's trial was held in the middle of June. Christopher's name appeared in the transcript of the proceedings, incorrectly spelled. "The English citizen Ischervood, who unfortunately cannot be brought to justice," was accused of having committed reciprocal onanism with the prisoner in fourteen foreign countries and in the German Reich. The judge observed that, since he was ignorant of the various penalties for the prisoner's crime in these other countries, he would have to punish him according to German law. This remark may or may not have been meant as a joke, but its tone does suggest that the attitude of the court was relatively unhysterical, un-Nazi. Heinz got what was in those days considered a light sentence: six months in prison, to be followed by a year of labor service for the state and two years in the Army. 

During the trial, Christopher had been mercifully ignorant of the greatest danger which had threatened Heinz. Instead of being sentenced to a fixed term in a regular prison, Heinz might easily have been sentenced to an indefinite term in a concentration camp, as many homosexuals were. In camp, Heinz would have been treated as an outcast of the Reich who differed from a Jew only in having to wear a pink triangle on his clothes instead of a yellow star. Like the Jews, homosexuals were often put into "liquidation" units, in which they were given less food and more work than other prisoners. Thus, thousands of them died.

After Heinz had been sentenced, all Christopher could do for him was to send him letters so discreetly worded that they were no more than tokens and to provide him, through the German lawyer, with cigarettes and with food that was better than the regulation prison fare. There was no hope, now, of the two of them being able to see each other before 1941, when Heinz finished his military service, and very little hope that he would be allowed to leave Germany, even then.
Page 286 - 287

And then there was that old persisting question: Should he ever have taken Heinz out of Germany? Was Heinz now cursing him for this in his prison cell?

(Fifteen years later, when Christopher next saw Heinz, in Berlin, Heinz assured him that he wouldn't, for any thing, have missed their travels together. But Heinz was then speaking with the maturity and generosity of an extraordinarily lucky survivor who had served in the German Army on both the Russian and the Western fronts and come out of the war with a whole skin. He alone had the right to blame Christopher. It had never occurred to him to do so.)
Page 290

Christopher Isherwood,
Christopher and His Kind (1976)

Christopher And His Kind 1929 - 1939
by Christopher Isherwood
Farrar Straus Giroux 1976

Sunday, September 27, 2020

A Known Destruction - They Put Him in a Concentration Camp

In Brideshead Revisited, a novel written in 1944, Evelyn Waugh describes the suicide of one of his characters, Kurt, in a German concentration camp, during the late 1930s. The writing is fiction, and like all fiction, it is created out of the reality of the world around us. Though the full extent of these prisons as death camps would not be known for another year, neither was their existence unknown at the time.

Kurt – He Hanged Himself

Sebastian went after him, and for a year could find no trace. Then in the end he ran him to earth dressed as a storm trooper in a provincial town. At first he wouldn't have anything to do with Sebastian; spouted all the official jargon about the rebirth of his country, and his belonging to his country and finding self-realization in the life of the race. But it was only skin-deep with him. Six years of Sebastian had taught him more than a year of Hitler; eventually he chucked it, admitted he hated Germany, and wanted to get out. I don't know how much it was simply the call of the easy life, sponging on Sebastian, bathing in the Mediterranean, sitting about in cafés, having his shoes polished. Sebastian says it wasn't entirely that; Kurt had just begun to grow up in Athens. It may be he's right. Anyway, he decided to try and get out. But it didn't work. He always got into trouble whatever he did, Sebastian said. They caught him and put him in a concentration camp. Sebastian couldn't get near him or hear a word of him; he couldn't even find what camp he was in; he hung about for nearly a year in Germany, drinking again, until one day in his cups he took up with a man who was just out of the camp where Kurt had been, and learned that he had hanged himself in his hut the first week.

Brideshead Revisited, The Sacred and Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder
A novel by Evelyn Waugh
Book Two - A Twitch Upon the Thread
Chapter Four
Pages 306 - 307
Little, Brown and Company 1945

Monday, September 14, 2020

Gay Berlin - Long Night after the Knives

From Robert Beachy's Gay Berlin

Gay Berlin
Gay Berlin is a deeply researched history of the emergence of a modern Gay identity in Germany, beginning in the late 1800s and through the early 1930s. The book ends with a short summary of the sharp swing from celebration (or at least toleration) to persecution. 

What follows are quotes from pages 243 through 245.

Gay Berlin, Birthplace of a Modern Identity
by Robert Beachy (2014/2015)

Homoeroticism and Anti-Democratic Politics

There were homosexuals within the Nazi movement ... Consider too that the popular Männerbund ideology of the Weimar period helped to assimilate homoeroticism to a nationalist, anti-democratic politics. 

[See also Judith (Jack) Halberstam: The Queer Art of Failure (2011) - Chapter 5, "The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You": Homosexuality and Fascism]

Perhaps the best example -- or best known, in any case -- was Ernst Röhm, a decorated veteran of the war, a member of the Freikorps, and an alte Kämpfer ("old fighter") from the Munich beer-hall days of the early Nazi Party. Moreover, Röhm was Hitler's closest friend among the Nazi elite, and the only one with whom he used the informal German address (du as opposed to Sie). In 1930 Röhm, at Hitler's behest, became leader of the SA [Sturmabteilung], the party's brownshirted militia. In the summer of 1931, however, Röhm was forced to defend himself in two highly publicized trials held in Munich. He had been caught with male prostitutes and was accused of violating the anti-sodomy statute. Through the course of the trials the prosecution managed to produce some of Röhm's private letters and correspondence. The trials also established that Röhm had actually joined the largest of the three homosexual rights organizations the Human Rights League, in the 1920s. Despite Röhm's scandals, Hitler refused to sack him, and claimed blithely that Röhm's personal life was a private affair.

Campaign for a Clean Reich - February 1933

Of course, the SA provided boots on the ground for the Nazi movement, and after Hitler came to power, they were largely responsible for shoring up Nazi control, at least in the first eighteen months of the regime's rule. The fact that a high-ranking Nazi -- at this point Röhm was arguably the second most powerful man in the Third Reich -- was openly homosexual did not shield the institute [Institut für Sexualwissenschaf, Institute for Sexual Research]. Nor did it prevent the repression of the homosexual rights movement. The Nazis’ "Campaign for a Clean Reich," inaugurated in February 1933, shut down Berlin's homosexual press and closed some fifteen of the most prominent bars. The last publications appeared in March. By summer, the three homosexual rights organizations, including the SHC [Wissenschaftlich-humanitäres Komitee, Scientific Humanitarian Committee], had destroyed their membership lists and begun the process of disbanding. Yet these actions were less a singling out of homosexuals than an extension of the more general "coordination," or Gleichschaltung, of German civil society. Most non-Nazi groups during the first months (or in some cases years) of Nazi rule, including those on the right, experienced similar repression or were forced to merge with Nazi organizations. Despite the Gleichschaltung, the vast majority of the estimated eighty to one hundred gay and lesbian bars and clubs in Berlin remained open well into 1935. At this stage the Nazis targeted homosexual men and women only if they were Jewish or leftists. 

Night of the Long Knives - June 30 - July 2, 1934

The fate of Röhm changed all of this, though not because his presence somehow shielded homosexuals, but rather because his murder allowed Heinrich Himmler -- Röhm's arch-nemesis among the Nazi elite – free reign to implement a more systematic repression. Röhm’s career (and life) came to an abrupt end on July 2, 1934, in the purge of the SA leadership known as the Night of the Long Knives. It was widely rumored that Röhm and many of his associates were discovered in bed with young boys or with each other. The number of those killed is fairly murky, but estimates now hover around eighty-five. Most of the known victims were SA leaders or close Röhm associates. Some had no ties at all to the SA, however, and were simply targeted opportunistically. In a radio address delivered on July 2, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, explained that Hitler had preempted a putsch attempt planned by Röhm and his henchmen. This was a fiction. The real reason was Hitler's need to appease the military, which feared Röhm and his militia. Once Röhm was gone, Hitler was finally able to command the loyalty of the German military and complete the consolidation of his power. Of course, subsequent Nazi propaganda also emphasized Röhm's homosexuality -- in addition to his alleged perfidy -- and the Nazis commitment to traditional morality.

An Ideology of Homophobia

Röhm's elimination cleared the way for a more systematic persecution of homosexuals. This campaign was led by Himmler, head of the SS and the ideologue of Nazi homophobia. In 1935 Himmler championed a new, draconian anti-sodomy statute, which criminalized all erotic contact between men. One year later Himmler established the Reich Office to Combat Homosexuality and Abortion. Nazi officials now had the tools to arrest and imprison large numbers of homosexual men on the flimsiest of evidence. This policing reflected Nazi views that male homosexuality was a contagious perversion and that homosexual conduct, like disease, might be cured. The persecution that followed had two major objectives. Nazi officials hoped to curb and redirect the majority of those who had fallen into homosexual "vice with a variety of treatments, and, if necessary, incarceration. Of these, a small minority of "incorrigibles" -- those with "hereditary" conditions who were deemed responsible for "seducing" others would be exterminated to stop the spread of "infection." During the Third Reich more than 100,000 German men were charged under Paragraph 175, and of these an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 perished in prisons and camps. As Dagmar Herzog has argued, "Many Nazi 'experts' advanced a social constructionist view of sexuality that sexual identity was variable and vulnerable." This was in part an anti-Semitic rebuke of the theories of the "Jewish" Hirschfeld and "his" SHC, but it also persisted long after 1945.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Ocean Vuong - Art for Our Lives on Fire

That Urgent Open Bandwidth

On August 28, 2014, The Rumpus published an essay by Ocean Vuong: The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation

Death Waking Us Up to Living

Ocean Vuong's uncle died by his own actions on New Year's Eve 2013. This death of a loved one opens into an exploration of the importance of art to share our pain and help us live.

"I wish I could've found a way to share ... with him ..., to have the courage to communicate on that urgent and open bandwidth. That we could have trusted each other with our frailties knowing that, as humans, we are, at our best, partially broken."

On the rituals of death: "the sounds of the Lotus Sutra ... its deep droning rises from our collective despair." "the dead can still be nourished by our offerings and goodwill"

On the illusion of safety in a fire escape: "That one can indeed escape the fire, and still perish through the means of that escape." 

On the potency of walking, and opening to our perceptions, to further thought and deepen experience: "something about movement that helps me think."

Art, Our Most Necessary Communications (and the fire escape as architecture and metaphor)

I speak of poetry only because it is the medium that I am most intimate with. But what I mean to say is that all art, if willing, can create the space for our most necessary communications. 
I want to believe that there are things we can say without language. And I think this is the space the fire escape occupies, a space unbounded by the genre or the physical limitations of the artist's tools. A space of pure potential, of possibility, where our desires, our strange and myriad ecstasies can, however brief, remain amorphous and resist the decay actualized by the rational world.

... it has become more and more difficult for us to say aloud, to one another: I am hurt. I am scared. What happens now?, the poem, like the fire escape, as feeble and thin as it is, has become my most concentrated architecture of resistance. A place where I can be as honest as I need to be - because the fire has already begun in my home, swallowing my most valuable possessions - and even my loved ones. 
My uncle is gone. I will never know exactly why. But I still have my body and with it these words, hammered into a structure just wide enough to hold the weight of my living. I want to use it to talk about my obsessions and fears, my odd and idiosyncratic joys. I want to leave the party through the window and find my uncle standing on a piece of iron shaped into visible desperation, which must also be (how can it not?) the beginning of visible hope. I want to stay there until the building burns down. I want to love more than death can harm. And I want to tell you this often: That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night - we can live. And we will.

Ocean Vuong

The Weight of Our Living: On Hope, Fire Escapes, and Visible Desperation (2014)

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

The Theory and Practice of Hell - The Homosexuals

Homosexuals in the Concentration Camps

In addition to these main categories of prisoners, the SS made a number of other distinctions. Of these the homosexuals deserve special mention. This group had a very heterogeneous composition. It included individuals of real value, in addition to large numbers of criminals and especially blackmailers. This made the position of the group as a whole very precarious. Hostility toward them may have been partly rooted in the fact that homosexuality was at one time wide spread in Prussian military circles, as well as among the SA and the SS, and it was to be mercilessly outlawed and erased. The Gestapo readily took recourse to the charge of homosexuality, if it was unable to find any other pretext for proceeding against a Catholic priest or irksome critic. The mere suspicion was sufficient. Homosexual practices were actually very widespread in the camps. The prisoners, however, ostracized only those whom the SS marked with the pink triangle.

The fate of homosexuals in the concentration camps can only be described as ghastly. They were often segregated in special barracks and work details. Such segregation offered ample opportunities for unscrupulous elements in positions of power to engage in extortion and maltreatment. Until the fall of 1938 homosexuals at Buchenwald were divided up among the barracks occupied by political prisoners, where they led a rather inconspicuous life. In October 1938 they were transferred to the penal company in a body and had to slave in the quarry. This consigned them to the lowest caste in the camp during the most difficult years. In shipments to extermination camps, such as Nordhausen, Natzweiler, and Gross-Rosen, they furnished the highest proportional share, for the camp had an understandable tendency to slough off all elements considered least valuable or worthless. If anything could save them at all, it was to enter into sordid relationships within the camp, but this was as likely to endanger their lives as to save them. Theirs was an insoluble predicament, and virtually all of them perished. 

Eugen Kogan, Chapter 3: The Categories of Prisoners, pages 35 - 36

Paperback The Theory and Practice of Hell : The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them Book
Eugen Kogon,
The Theory and Practice of Hell
(1950, 2006)

The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them

by Eugen Kogon (1950)

Translated from the German by Heinz Norden (1950)

Introduction by  Nikolaus Wachsmann (2006)



Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Go Down Moses - The Ground Beneath Our Feet Is Shifting

Teju Cole - Go Down Moses

Questions of liberation tend to interleave the present and the past. What is happening now is instinctively assessed with the help of what happened before, and both despair and hope are tutored by memory. The old Negro spiritual “Go Down Moses,” beloved by Harriet Tubman and generations since, sought to link the black American freedom quest with the story of ancient Israel’s struggle to be free of Pharaoh’s bondage.

Humanity is on the move. The ground beneath our feet is shifting, the skies cannot be relied upon, and even our own bodies bear the marks of the strain. Everyone is longing to be free, and everyone is curious about whether hope is still possible. The photographic archive contains evidence that thus it ever was, that we have always lived in this urgency.

Through an intuitive sequence of photographs, in images soft and loud, this exhibition proposes a redefinition: that hope has nothing to do with mood or objective facts, but is rather a form of hospitality offered by those who are tired to those who are exhausted.

Teju Cole, Curator's Statement 

Go Down Moses - Museum of Contemporary Photography - July 18 - September 29, 2019

The Ground Beneath My Feet Is Shifting

Teju Cole puts the interplay of despair and hope at the center of the exhibit, that is the story he is telling with photographs from the archive of the Museum of Contemporary Photography. I am repeatedly drawn back to the opening statement, as much as to my memory of the exhibit and the book from Candor Arts

Change is the only constant. I pretend that the present is stable and the future will be like the parts of the past that support the stories I tell. The truth is that the story is much bigger than what I wish it would be. It is a past and present filled with pain, suffering, and systemic inequities. Inequities which have fueled wars, genocides, mass incarcerations, and dynamics which further entrench the elites. It is also a past and present filled with love, compassion, soaring art and spiritual wholeness. There are examples of old wrongs righted, of increased equity, of more voices joining the conversation and a broadening of the distribution of power.

A Redefinition of Hope: Hospitality

Initially, I was taken by the closing paragraph: a redefinition of hope. I need to be reminded of that, that hope is a form of hospitality. It's not that I am hopeful for myself or for an outcome, but that I can offer support to those who are exhausted. A sip of water on a hot day. A few moments of respite. While there is much work to do, hope is about connecting through acknowledgement, through witnessing, through being present and available.

We have always lived in this urgency

As I read the first two paragraphs more closely, they speak to me of the archive as a tool to "interleave the present and the past". 

The declaration that "humanity is on the move" and that this is the human condition, to be on the move. Our sense of place, even our being in our own bodies, is undercut by change, by challenges to any fixed way of being. It is this challenges to our complacency, to our usual way of being, which forces change, forces maturity. 

Life is fragile. It is precious. It is sacred. We can live in the urgency of the moment. We always have. 

My Archive

I am drawn to my personal history, my personal archive, my personal collection of photographs, my telling of my life. I'm also searching the broader cultural archive (for example, Sachsenhausen December 1938). I'm discovering, again and again, how my understanding of myself, my own story, and that of society as a whole, was shaped by a limited knowing, by single threads and single perspectives. 

My story as an American, as a grandchild of immigrants, as a Jew, as a homosexual, as a white professional, is a story of being Other and being Privileged, a story of the tsunamis of the past which have drowned us and the cresting waves that have lifted up. 

I'm working to combine some of these threads in this project, creating portraits from the faces in the Sachsenhausen photograph.

Let My People Go

Coming to the title of the exhibit, Go Down Moses, the old Negro spiritual. A coded and fully visible cry for freedom. A link across time into our collective past, through various slaveries, in different cultures. The American enslavement of Africans. The enslavement of the Israelites. There are many ways we each navigate the available space to be visibly ourselves, to acknowledge what makes us different, to declare our presence, and to adopt forms which do not trigger aggression against us. And to offer our voices in hospitality.

The Spiritual

An artist friend suggested these three YouTube versions of “Go Down Moses”. Here are her comments:

  1. “Let my People Go” by Mike Swanson played against a backdrop of illustrations.  Well done and instructive. 
  2. A version sung by the National Taiwan University Chorus.  Gives an idea of the universality of this song.
  3. Paul Robeson's classic, by-the-book version performed by this world-famous baritone singer and actor and avowed friend of communism.

Earlier Comments on this Exhibit

I blogged about the Go Down Moses exhibit on August 19, 2019, That post also discusses a conversation between Teju Cole and Dawoud Bey


Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Books Informing My Understanding of Gay Men and the Holocaust

Watercolor painting of three men
Larry Wolf, Pink Triangle Portraits (2020)

I started a project of watercolor portraits of the men in the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp photo from 1938

Here is what I've been reading recently that informs my thinking as I spend time with the photograph. The books address the lives of gay men during the 1930s and 1940s, as well as various aspects of homophobia and antisemitism, in Germany and in the US. 

Robert C Reinhart: Walk The Night (1994)

Robert Beachy: Gay Berlin - Birthplace of a Modern Identity (2014)

Eugen KogonL The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (1950)

Richard Breitman: The Berlin mission : the American who resisted Nazi Germany from within (2019)

Margaret Bourke-White: Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly (1946)

Martin Duberman: Jews Queers Germans (2017)

Mark Sealy: Decolonising the Camera - especially chapter 2, Race, Denial and Imagining Atrocity (2019)

Martin Sherman: Bent (1979)

Gad Beck: An Underground Life (1999)

Kenji Yoshino: Covering (2006)

Etty Hillesum: An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (1996)

Judith (Jack) Halberstam: The Queer Art of Failure - especially chapter 5, "The Killer in Me Is the Killer in You": Homosexuality and Fascism (2011)

Read Years Ago

Richard Plant: The Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals (1986)

Heinz Heger: The Men with the Pink Triangle (1980)

Christopher Isherwood: Christopher and his Kind (1976)

Further Material

There is a vast literature on the Holocaust and a pretty extensive one on gays in the Holocaust (for example, this one from the Rainbow Round Table of the American Library Association, 2003).

Monday, August 3, 2020

Sachsenhausen - December 19, 1938

Prisoners in the concentration camp at Sachsenhausen, Germany

December 19, 1938

Unknown Photographer (1938), US National Archive of Foreign Records

This image is often cited as showing homosexual men wearing pink triangles. A variety of triangles, of different colors, were used to indicate the reason someone was in a concentration camp: criminals, political, asocial, Roma, homosexual, Jehovah's Witness. Jews wore a yellow Star of David (two triangles, one of which could indicate an additional reason for being in the concentration camp).

Image Archive: General Services Administration. National Archives and Records Service. Office of the National Archives. / Hoffmann Collection; Subseries HLB; 35mm prints and negatives made by the Berlin Office, 3/1933 - 7/1944 / Record Group 242: National Archives Collection of Foreign Records Seized, 1675 - 1958

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

The Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp was established in 1936. It was located 35 kilometres (22 mi) north of Berlin. (Google MapsWikipedia)

Paragraph 175: Criminalized Male Homosexuality

Pink Triangle
for Homosexuals
May 15, 1871: Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code made homosexual acts between males a crime.

July 2, 1934: Night of the Long Knives - Purge of SA leadership and death of Ernst Rohm.

June 28, 1935: Paragraph 175 of the Criminal Code was amended to criminalize a broader range of relationships between men and include harsher sentencing. The changes became effective on September 1, 1935.

April 4, 1938: a directive of the Gestapo declared that men convicted under Paragraph 175 will be sent to concentration camps.

1994: Paragraph 175 removed from the German Criminal Code.

During the Third Reich more than 100,000 German men were charged under Paragraph 175, and of these an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 perished in prisons and camps. [Robert Beachy, Gay Berlin (2014)]


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Looking Closely - Reflection in My Eye

What is reflected in my eye?

Larry Wolf, Self Portrait Detail (2020)

Monday, June 15, 2020

Family Wisdom

It won't always be this way.

Photograph of older white woman with her eyes closed.
Larry Wolf, Sonya Wein (1970s print/scanned 2020)

My mother attributes this to her mother, Sonya Wein. "It won't always be this way." We interpret this as a wry comment about being present regardless of what is happening. Make the most of this moment. Good things will end. Bad things will end. Who's to say which is which?

Sonya was born somewhere in Russia. As a child, she escaped the anti-Jewish pogroms in the early 1900s with her family, eventually arriving in New York City. All she would say about their escape was the need to keep quiet so as not to be discovered. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Looking Inward Self Portrait Class - 9 June 2020

This week, a short statement, a long list of influences, and five images as summary of my work in this class.

Larry Wolf, Looking Inward w5p1 (2020)

Larry Wolf, Looking Inward w5p2 (2020)

Larry Wolf, Looking Inward w5p3 (2020)

Larry Wolf, Looking Inward w5p4 (2020)

Larry Wolf, Looking Inward w5p5 (2020)


Looking closely at my aging body. How I am in the world and in my life. Falling apart and holding together. Being surprised by what I see.


Shadow, Darkness, Radiance, Luminous Emptiness, Visually Crisp.

A dialog of classic portraits with those that are more abstract. 

Influences - Older (Male) Bodies - A Queer Gaze


Lucian Freud - Self Portraits ... class presentation 2020-05-26

Saturday, June 6, 2020


An older white man with sunglasses stands in front of a sign for a hotdog restaurant. The sign is a stylized grilling fork with a hotdog in its tines.
Larry Wolf, Wolfy's (2020)

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Looking Inward Self Portrait Class - 2 June 2020

Here are the images for this week. Looking at myself.

photograph of an older white male with shaved head and bushy eyebrows
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p1 (2020)

photograph of an older white male with shaved head and bushy eyebrows
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p2 (2020)

photograph of an older white male looking at the camera with his hand at his neck
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p3 (2020)

photograph of an older white male looking at the camera with eyes closed
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p4 (2020)

photograph of an older white male looking at the camera with his cell phone blocking half of his face
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p5 (2020)

photograph of an older white looking at the camera. The image is very white from being over exposed.
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p6 (2020)

photograph of an older white male with a blue sky and green leaves reflected in a window behind him. His shadow on the glass is visible.
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p7 (2020)

photograph of an older white male with a blue sky and green leaves reflected in a window behind him. His shadow on the glass is visible.
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p8 (2020)

photograph of an older white male holding his foot in his hand
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p9 (2020)

photograph of an older white male, resting his elbow on his knee, we see his hand with fingers spaced apart.
Larry Wolf, Looking w4p10 (2020)

Looking Inward Self Portrait Class - Narrative

Learning About Myself - Observation and Aspiration

I am willing, even eager, to come close to the camera, to use a macro lens and photograph details. And yet, I introduce blur or intentionally defocus the image, hiding in plain sight, hiding in the details, or hiding the details. Creating “art” while seeking personal authenticity.

Lost in detail, I find an engaging abstraction, my body as landscape - the rounded hills and valleys of my hairy chest, the wheat fields of my bearded cheek.
Close up photograph of the chest of an older white male
Larry Wolf (2020)
A distinctly white male body, unremarkable, intended to not attract attention, yet, somehow, to be noticed, privilege embodied.. Clean. Groomed. Respectable. Distinguished older gentleman. And.. disappearing.. into abstraction and into ordinaryness. 

I compartmentalize and hide the chaos and confusion that a wider view would show: piles of books, photographs, drawings, camera, tripod, electronics - symbolic and utilitarian objects - a vast sea of the many streams of thought and work. 

From that swirl of activity, I focus on the aging of this body. Though still very much alive, no longer in the radiance of youth, a different radiance is evident. 

Larry Wolf (2020)
Keeping fear, tears and heartbreak at a distance. The current pain of police killings of black citizens and the structural racism deep in our culture. The violent deaths of queer people, the erasure of relationships and gender identity. The raging pandemic with continuing deaths and societal mismanagement. The systemic dysfunction of our healthcare system paid to do more rather than to do better; to address individual crises rather than proactively ensure public health. The endless cycle of economic meltdowns that increase disparities. The relentless colonization of the planet and the rising tide of climate change. The lack of any real safety in people or organizations dedicated to compassion and healing.

I have lived decades in the utopian hope that it gets better, that now feels so false. I have abandoned the spiritual tradition of my ancestors and the meditative ones I chose. Now, to be open, questioning, curious, while creating. There are no answers, only the illusion of knowing.

My past contributions have felt both substantial and irrelevant given the large context of a violent society, the limits of my (and anyone's) knowledge, wisdom, power to act, and the essential unpredictability of the world.

The only certainty is that we will die, each of us, every one. … Personal losses, lovers, parents, teachers, sacred places. Parts of me, of my history, have died, and others survive. The parts that have been repaired, the parts that are still broken, and the parts that are yet to break.

I make peace in tiny pockets of sanity and beauty. I find healing in small repairs and replacements. I want a way forward to a remembered joyfulness of being. To embrace the pain, the fear, the tears, the storms, and to open to a deeper appreciation of warmth, compassion and nurturing. Buddhists call it luminous emptiness. What do I experience?