I love to talk about myself. I’m constantly thinking about Nic, especially over the last several weeks of redoing my personal artistic promotions. But I’ll never forget how difficult it was for me to write an Artist Statement. We were told to do so while at University (I’ve always liked the way the Brits say that) and I fumbled around until I came up with something reasonable. But I’ll never forget the very best artist statement I ever read, that of Banksy. It was under the artist statement tab on his website and titled “The Manifesto.” It has since been removed, but is really just an excerpt from the diary of Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO, who was among the first British soldiers to liberate Bergen-Belsen in 1945. It reads as follows:
Like I said, it was taken off his site, and I am horrible at remembering details that might help me to google such a thing. But this morning I tried and in the process I found both the original manifesto and this snippet from a book called After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 1945. It was written by Ben Shepard and published in 2005. It reads as follow (block quotes added by me of course.)
On April 15, 1945, British tanks rumbled up to the barbed wire fence surrounding the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. The soldiers climbed out of their tanks, walked up to the wire, and peered through it. One by one, they began to vomit. The overpowering stench of countless corpses rotting in the sun, and the ghastly sight of skeletal survivors was an unimaginable experience even for these battle-hardened veterans. They were the first Allied eyewitnesses to what later became known as the Holocaust.
Sending the lipstick, as one colonel recalled, was an “action of genius, of sheer unadulterated brilliance.” Its distribution, he said, “had done something to make them individuals again.”Lieutenant Colonel Mervin Willett Gonin DSO
Approximately 14,000 inmates died after liberation, and about 2,000 perished after receiving food far too rich for them to digest. Medical personnel failed to realize that ravenous bodies adapted to starvation conditions cannot initially withstand a normal diet.One of the most heart-rending tasks was deciding who would get a chance to live and who would be left to die. Resources were limited, and not everyone could be saved. Nightly staff meetings, fortified by alcohol, kept the exhausted doctors sane and focused on their mission. After several weeks, the situation began to improve, and the mortality rate declined. As more survivors regained their health, glimmers of normal life began to emerge.
One of the most remarkable and bizarre episodes occurred when a large shipment of lipstick mysteriously arrived at the camp. The overworked doctors were initially annoyed because they were expecting desperately needed medical supplies. But as it turned out, the lipstick had a profoundly positive effect on the female survivors. Sending the lipstick, as one colonel recalled, was an “action of genius, of sheer unadulterated brilliance.” Its distribution, he said, “had done something to make them individuals again, they were someone, no longer merely the number tattooed on the arm. At last they could take an interest in their appearance. That lipstick started to give them back their humanity.”
Ha. Read all that without welling up or at least pausing to think, and you’re probably a Nazi.