Käthe Kollwitz: Art of the Human Condition

We can easily think of artworks that are beautiful or cheerful; any Raphael would do, any Renoir would do. But how about gloomy art? How about intense art that immortalizes tragedies and incarnates human suffering? The works of the German expressionist Käthe Kollwitz would definitely rank high on such list.

Kollwitz’s drawing, etchings and lithographs expose the horrors and folly of war by featuring its most innocent victims: dead and starving children, helpless and terrified mothers desperately struggling to keep their children alive at a time when the German regime held that no mother should worry about her child because the state protects Germany’s children. Expectedly, the Nazi did everything imaginable to hassle her, including labeling her art ‘degenerate’ and a direct threat to move her to a concentration camp.

Hollow looks, stretched hands begging for food, death reaping souls and racking havoc, all realized in shades of gray: a world whose colors have vanished, and whose essence has been reduced to pale snapshots, a nightmare landscape devoid of landscape, only protagonists facing their fate alone.

Art should not necessarily have a purpose, but for those looking for one -the Saint(s) Thomas of this world-, Kollwitz artwork serves one such purpose: bearing witness, documenting the human condition, reminding us of what would become of us if we keep on repeating the same mistakes. Did anything change?

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