CV & shows

About the work of Maarten van der Heijden


[. . .] I cannot remember when I saw these photos for the first time. I do remember when the stories came. I was six when I knew about the Great Destruction. The effect of the photos may take a long time to come. Also the effect renews itself. In November I was in Majdanek. A bizarre place, as an infinitely vast football field, near the city of Krakow. All around are new apartment buildings. If people on their balconies are enjoying the sun or the sunset, and the trees in the distance, they look at the same time at this field of death. In one of the barracks just another photograph: a photograph of a pile of corpses. I fell apart when it dawned on me: "So much so am I, Jewess, hated." The size of the Jew-hatred, centuries old, centuries nourished, more difficult to exterminate than the Jews themselves, became visible, became palpable, and became insightful at this image. This is my story, this is my mythology, if you will, this is Maarten's story, this is his mythology, if you will, this is our heritage; it is not the only thing we have inherited, there is infinitely more, but this at least we have inherited; with this we must at least do something; to this we must at least relate.


[...] The images are there, there must be something done with them; the reality is there, there must be something done with it. With the way Maarten did that 'something', he has placed himselfe in the middle of the Jewish tradition. Our enemies are often accusing the Jews, that we wallow in self pity. With the way Maarten has approached it, our enemies cannot reproach in this way. Martin has deconstructed the images of the Shoah, and constructed a new image out of it, a colorful, beautiful, intriguing image, not sweet goody-goody; his images are on the edge of the decorative, but only beautiful and colorful, no, they're not.


Why do I state that, by the way of his positioning he is placing himselve in the Jewish tradition? In response to the exile in Babylon and the loss of the First Temple literature was made; many a book from the Tanach, the Bible, found its origin in response to these catastrophes. In response to the destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70 and the eventual loss of the sovereign Jewish state, rabbinic Judaism originated, the Judaism as we know it today.


The Catholics took the fragments of the Temple Judaism, restored the hierarchy, and gave to their spiritual leaders the clothing of the high priest, took again the incense, installed the altar, transformed Jesus to the lamb that was sacrificed as the ultimate sacrifice, and made the forgiveness for everything, and the reconciliation for all to the heart of its religious ideology and secular power. The protestants threw away these old debris, picked the ethics out of the biblical Judaism and made the conscience to the all enforcing authority.


Rabbinic Judaism was doing as if his nose was bleeding, and started all over again; it was not interested in the clothes, the incense, the altar, the sacrifice, and the grand gesture. And also not in the freewheeling conscience, a conscience disengaged from concrete God-given duties. It chose a spirituality rooted in everyday life. Food, sex, children, work, rest, chat and discussions, jokes and irrational rituals, crap at low and very high level, it chose especially for life here on earth; in the same time it dreamed about the messianistic times, but that was especially for later, for many, much later. That dream about much later crushed in the Holocaust. And from the earthly life of Jews is not much left, simply because there are so few Jews left in Europe. But the will to live is unbroken.


Maarten's work testifies to the unbroken will to live. With the shit something meaningful is created. Out of the intolerable something tolerable. From the Ordnung des Todes to the order of the Jewish artist. Already before the Second World War, before the Shoah, Chagall hung the jew on the cross, in other words, the man on the cross got a tallit, a prayer shawl and tefillin, the leather straps that are used with the morning prayer. If on all the paintings in the Louvre, the many other museums, the infinite number of churches, Jesus is not only depicted with a loincloth and a crown of thorns, but if the painters at least had painted his tallit, what should have been the course of history? This rhetorical question, which incidentally has no answer, indicates how large the responsibility is of the artist depicting the suffering. Maarten van der Heijden has taken his responsibility by giving the Jewish suffering an artistic shape, which does not hit the spectator with a blow between the eyes, I shape that, to my opinion, does not let the spectator burst into tears, but a shape that leads in a concise way to the questions that should be asked. And that, in an almost 'cheerful' manner, explains: It's been, it is still there, it's not gone, it will always remain, but we go further.
That Maarten has succeeded in that, is smart. Really smart. Worth a mazzel tov. So, Maarten, mazzel tov!


Rabbi Tamarah Benima, parts of the openingspeech of "Martin",Borne Synagogue, May 8, 2011.