Sunday, January 3, 2010

Apocalypse in Lilac: Capriccio

Many people think it is foolish to dwell on issues of history, especially that of the Asia-Pacific War. They are mistaken. History permeates every sector of Asian life.

Whether it is how a noodle dish is made or who votes or where an airfield is located, the past is the context. History is not ready to go away and it returns inconveniently.

The death of a former comfort woman is front-page news in Korea, rightists in Japan surround a Korean elementary school shouting that the Korean-Japanese should go back to Korea, the U.S. State Department is asking for justice for former American POWs of Japan, and the Okinawans are finding their voice against the caprices of Tokyo.

I always marvel at those who tell me to stop caring about "those" history issues. It seems, to me, perilous to ignore them. So much of the controversy over the Futenma relocation has to do with unresolved history. There is a history to corruption, willful power, and secret agreements.

Westerners should not be so surprised by this. We are not immune. Japanese-Americans wanted and got after over 40 years an apology. After months of negotiations the German government pledged $87.2 million in December to a new endowment for the Auschwitz memorial in Poland.  In October, after decades of denial, a monument was dedicated in Bucharest recognizing and memorializing Romanian Holocaust victims.

The painting, Apocalypse in Lilac: Capriccio, at the right really says it all. Marc Chagall kept the work to himself. Painted in 1945, it is uncharacteristically dark and literal depiction of the Holocaust was never exhibited or cataloged. There is none of the usual (and to me annoying) vivid color and folkloric fantasy of most Chagalls. This was a personal expression of trying to put to memory the horrors being exposed at the time. The work only surfaced when it was sold to a private collector after the artist's death.

Purchased by the London Museum of Jewish Art in October, the painting will go on exhibit this week. After over 60 years, this powerful, rare image is finally ready for its public.


  1. "rightists in Japan surround a Korean elementary school shouting that the Korean-Japanese should go back to Korea"

    Let's be fair. The people they are shouting at are not "Korean-Japanese" - they are Koreans who live in Japan, refuse to naturalize, and run a school that teaches pro-Pyongyang (anti-Japanese) propaganda.

    Those rightists are pretty disgusting, but let's not pretend that people who refuse to naturalize are "Japanese."

  2. The clock in this image is a reference to his then wife's family,who sold clocks and jewelry. ( see "Time is a River without Banks": a picture about Chagall's marriage,uniting two families. They first met on the bridge in the background of this picture ( photo available). The clock is Bella's family , the fish is his father , a fish merchant/porter.)

    Clocks and crosses are frequent depictions of worries about effect of war on their families back in Vitebsk.

    For more please contact me. My MA thesis 1990 about autobiographical references in the content of his paintings.



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