Monday, February 7, 2011

"Hunger" by Kathe Kollowitz

This is the most devastating of all the Kathe Kollowitz woodcuts I've seen. The artist is known for her powerful prints about extreme poverty and hunger. Here a family of four stare out toward the viewer, their unique suffering emphasized in different ways. The top left seems to be a mother, her infant's starkly highlighted face growing out of the shadow of her left side. Though out of her body, the child is still an extension of her self. Part of her hand gently touches her neck. Her expression nothing more than a stiff frown. Both she and her baby's eyes form a black mask of shared pain and stony resignation. Beside her a man grasps his neck fully and with more expressive desperation as if choking on dust. His mouth and eyes are black holes, empty like his stomach. In one bottom corner a small child is caught frozen in a bright light, holding a spoon close to her chest. We see both of her eyes and bony face staring out with sadness and confusion. The final quadrant of the image is a chasm of empty, black space, and I have always interpreted this as symbolic of both the immediate past and future of this unfortunate family. The empty space seems to be a place where someone else should be, perhaps someone who has already starved to death. It also seems to be the place where the four figures are headed. They are each slipping out of the light into nonexistence, and what little we can see of them pleads for aid.

When Americans think of hunger and starvation, I know that I tend to recall images of emaciated Ethiopian children from commercials. But hunger persists as a problem everywhere in the world, even in the United States, as food banks run out of aid for needy individuals and families. Hunger is the most immediate human need, and feeding the hungry is the most immediate form of charity. I take this opportunity to encourage those with the means to donate to reputable agencies. If, like me, you live in the Delaware Valley region, Philabundance is a wonderful organization to send funds.

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