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Playing with Traumatic Images: Zbigniew Libera’s Retouched Icons

Parodic alternations of iconic images are a dime a dozen online, which makes it all the more telling when an artist uses the same technique.


Polish artist Zbigniew Libera has altered a number of classic images to overlay their dark themes of violence and death with the decor of popular culture, childhood, or other familiar sites of fantasy.  These alterations are detailed enough to create the desired disorientation, but not so much that they don’t circle back around to also reaffirm the original scandal.  The image above is particularly interesting in that regard.

The composition starts out as a mockup of Dmitri Baltermants’ “Grief,” a photograph of villagers from Kerch, Crimea looking for their loved ones who had been slaughtered by the Nazis in 1942.  Although often seen as documentary witness to the horror of civilian casualties in warfare, it appears that the Nazis, you will be shocked to learn, had in fact rounded up thousands of Jews for this massacre.


For a Polish artist to play with such a photo is not inconsequential, but I’m not going there.  What strikes me at the moment is how the retouched image can, when seen in the context of the Boston Marathon bombing, look eerily like a new photograph of yet another slaughter.  And a slaughter once again by people who will kill innocents in the name of purity.  If the message of the parody is that the past is still with us amidst the distractions of contemporary mass culture, then the artist may have done his job.

You can see other images in the series here.  Thanks to Kamila Zrembska for the link.


Playing with Traumatic Images: Zbigniew Libera’s Retouched Icons


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