“Have the courage to say no. Have the courage to face the truth. Do the right thing because it is right. These are the magic keys to living your life with integrity.” ~ W. Clement Stone
The beauty of the world’s greatest experiment is the freedom based upon inalienable rights … given by the Creator, not the State, which makes them so. Among those being freedom of speech. But even in this great freedom, there are limitations. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater, for one.
But what is too often overlooked is the fact that with freedom comes responsibility. The responsibility to know when something is legal and when it’s ethical … and the wisdom to know the difference.
Sadly, many in the arts (and as a performing artist and as a former illustrator, I know) … there is a tendency to abuse this form of expression by avoiding responsibility for behavior.
Case in point … a controversial Italian artist’s new exhibit has a statue depicting Hitler kneeling in prayer placed at the center of what was the largest Jewish ghetto in Nazi-controlled Europe. The artwork by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is titled “Him“.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director, Efraim Zuroff, called it “a senseless provocation which insults the memory of the Nazis’ Jewish victims”. He continued, “As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler’s only ‘prayer’ was that they be wiped off the face of the earth.”
I concur with Mr. Zuroff. And I believe it’s beyond cruel and inhumane.
Portraying the leader of the barbaric, anti-Semitic Germanic movement … who exterminated 6 million Jews (and 5 million non-Jews) … kneeling in prayer, is disparaging enough. But to place this villain right in the middle of what was once a Jewish ghetto from which many Jews were transported to death camps, crosses the line between expression and intent to inflict injury. To depict this maniacal monster as a saintly, merciful and humble being is to spit upon the graves of those he exterminated … and to mock those who barely survived the Shoah.
This behavior is not freedom of expression but rather utilizing the rich communication of art as a weapon to diss the dead and eviscerate the hearts and minds of the wounded … victimizing them yet again.
We are not islands unto ourselves. What we do and say does indeed affect others. And where most things are legal … they are not necessarily ethical, compassionate, humane or responsible.
Mark Twain once said: “It is curious — curious that physical courage should be so common in the world, and moral courage so rare.”
It’s sad that Mr. Cattelan could utilize his God-given gifts to communicate … yet failed to have the courage to do what was morally right … and responsible.
An artist journeys deep within to touch the souls of his viewers/audience. One might reasonably assume Mr. Cattelan was actually sharing his own inner affection for a fiend and his “Final Solution”. Because to conclude otherwise … would be irresponsible.
Shalom through strength…