The sunflowers weep. Anselm Kiefer has done several paintings of sunflowers. He was born in 1945 in Germany, two months before the end of the war. It is hard to imagine the state of mind of the German nation at that time – on the edge of a shameful defeat, confronting the horrors of their totalitarian regime and, of course, the Holocaust. How does a society ever recover from sinking that abysmally low?
Anselm Kiefer has been determined to confront his culture’s dark past. Here, the sunflower weeps. The sunflower looks so different in Kiefer’s work to the glory of its portrayal by Van Gogh. In Kiefer’s work, the sunflower stands for the national shame. Once proud and tall, the sunflower hangs its head in shame and disgrace – and weeps.
We can see the tears falling – they are the sunflowers going to seed. The seed is watering the earth for a new cycle of life – for a better season.
I was hoping to use this picture in a sermon – (particularly appropriate for Holocaust Memorial Day). I asked myself, “is Kiefer a Christian?”. Then I thought, “what is the point of that question?”, and “what an ugly question to be asking”. In that question there is a “as opposed to what?” – as in “if he is not a Christian then what is he?”. It becomes “Is he a Christian – (as opposed to a Jew)?” See what I mean. It’s an ugly question, particularly on Holocaust Memorial Day.
Kiefer is an artist in the business of lament and hope. There are plenty of others – largely inspired by the Jewish artists and prophets of the Hebrew scriptures.