Bonk, Joel - VM - Heather Hancock
Joel Bonk: Disposable People
by Heather Hancock
In describing victims of the Holocaust who were trapped and tortured in concentration camps, many different eyewitnesses use similar images and language. Words such as shadow, ghostly, shapeless, withering, grey become the common vocabulary to characterize them. Denis Avey, a British POW who was imprisoned in Auschwitz, writes: “The whole site was crawling with strange, slow-moving figures, hundreds, no thousands of them. All dressed in tattered, ill fitting striped shirts and trousers that were more like pajamas than work clothes. Their faces were grey; their heads were roughly shaven and partly covered by tiny caps. They were like moving shadows, shapeless and indistinct, as if they could fade away any moment. I couldn’t tell who they were, what they were.”
The victims Avey describes in his compelling memoir The Man who Broke into Auschwitz, were barely recognizable as human beings. They ceased to appear as people. It is this theme that Joel Bonk explores in his three-piece work Disposable People.
These mysterious renderings, both opaque and transparent, appear much like Avey’s description of Jewish Auschwitz prisoners as “moving shadows, shapeless and indistinct, as if they could fade away any moment.” Who are these creatures, what are they?
To create these works the artist configured disposable trash bags, copied them with a copy machine, and then transferred them with paint thinner onto paper. He set them away for some time, forgetting their existence. Months passed before he discovered them again. This time, when the artist looked at his once disregarded pages, human forms began to emerge. With each look their presence became more visible. He knew the work was incomplete and set about imbuing his new vision onto the paper with strong, black ink, giving definition to these people he now could see.
These works appear like an x-ray, penetrating surface material to show what lies hidden beneath. Just as x-rays are used to diagnose the cause of illness and expose that which is unseen, in the same way Disposable People suggests the sickness and evil of spiritual blindness and its resulting impact, a literal inability to recognize another human being.
Again and again Scripture reminds us that the way we see, perceive and therefore value is not the way God sees, perceives and values. Things are not as they appear. We desperately need transformed vision, x-ray vision. Disposable People invites us to see through and beyond what we routinely dispose of, so that we might behold the image of God buried beneath.
Much of the world continues to mourn the atrocities of the Holocaust, and rightly so. I pray the stories and accounts would never fail to freshly weigh our hearts. But I can’t help but wonder if it is far more convenient to grieve humanity’s past sins than to actively confront and combat the atrocities, victimization and degradation of human life that unfolds before us presently. The title Joel Bonk has chosen for these works,Disposable People, was inspired by Kevin Bales’ in depth account of 27 million people trapped in slavery today! His Disposable People, New Slavery in the Global Economy explores the emergence and atrocities of physical and sexual violence that are inextricably linked to our present-day global economy. The words shadows, ghostly, shapeless, withering are used again, but this time they are describing thechildren, women and men who are being worked and starved to death in Pakistani brick kilns or the young girls and boys who are raped several times a day in India’s brothels.
I can only hope that, like the process which birthed Joel Bonk’s Disposable People, we would be willing to look again and again at those who are hidden beneath the world’s evil and see that our work is incomplete. May we set about imbuing their presence with strong, clear definition in a way that awakens and weighs hearts today.
Joel Bonk: Disposable People, three works, prints on copy paper with ink, 21 x 29 cm, 2012.
Disposable People is part of the Expressions for Justice art collection. Expressions for Justice is an initiative of the International Justice Mission, the Netherlands (IJM-NL), which seeks to make public justice systems work for victims of abuse and oppression, who urgently need the protection of the law with specific attention to human slavery, prostitution and the exploitation of widows through illegal land seizure. Expressions for Justice seeks to partner with artists who desire to use their work in the fight against injustice through hosting galleries and live performances that explore both the ugly realities of injustice and embrace hope and restoration.
Joel Bonk received a Bachelor of Fine Art at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Zwolle (The Netherlands) and a Bachelor of Fine Art at Willem de Kooning Academie in Rotterdam (The Netherlands). He draws inspiration from artists Giuseppe Penone (1947) and Germano Celant (1940).
Heather Hancock is a classical pianist, singer/songwriter and art enthusiast. She is the Director of Expressions for Justice and is the Pastor of Worship and Arts at Crossroads International Church of The Hague. She lives in The Hague with her husband Jeff and their two children. To learn more about International Justice Mission you can check out www.ijm.org (America), www.ijm.ca (Canada) or www.ijmnl.org (The Netherlands).
Artway Visual Meditation February 9, 2014