The Pink Mark – July 2015
Art Project on the topic of human rights and tolerance
When approaching a new project, Daniel Eisenhut values authenticity above all else. Before creating any pieces, he takes the time to look inside and discover if it stirs him. Self-reflection is important to his process, as is looking at the world around him. Daniel Eisenhut talks to people, observes, and investigates the nuances within a cause. If he feels there is something there, that speaks to him, he his driven to make art. Art that speaks to the people who see it on a deeper level than anything that is merely aesthetic. Daniel Eisenhut’s work has meaning to him first, and thus continues to carry meaning out into the world.
As with any project curiosity is the first step. One rooted in society and our collective past, as important to building a community as to rooting one, necessarily requires a conversation starter. With his “The Pink Mark” project of 2015, Daniel Eisenhut set out to start one conversation. How dangerous is a mark? How easily is it given? What can an artist do, to show the humanity of those once marked as “other”? These are some of the concepts explored by Daniel Eisenhut in his project “The Pink Mark”.
Many of the atrocities of the Holocaust during WWII are well-known. Millions suffered and died because the state no longer saw certain groups as people. Jewish people were forced to wear stars. They marked them and fed the growing fire of intolerance. People already so used to labelling one another, can more easily dehumanise a peer by focusing on nothing more than that. Once marked, they became dangerously close to less than human. Those very labels were used as to round people up and send them to their death. So many people were unjustly marked for death, because of their religious beliefs.
It’s often forgotten that there were others. Political prisoners, common criminals, Roma, Polish, French, Jehovah’s Witnesses, various “undesirables” including people with disabilities, were all given marks of their own colour. Marks that dehumanised and organised them for collection.
The “pink mark” was reserved for people in the LGBTQ+ community. A triangle of pink cloth, to be pinned on those set apart by their sexuality. This mark sentenced these individuals to the harsh labour camps of Nazi Germany and labelled them as unwanted. In 2015 it was this very mark that Daniel Eisenhut chose to highlight and portray in his “Pink Mark” project in Belarus. “The Pink Mark” would strive to show those once marked as human and give them a place in history in which they would be seen.
Initiated by the human rights organisations, BeQueer and Gay Belarus, the project was part of a movement to raise awareness for tolerance and human rights. Part performance, part exhibit, “The Pink Mark” project took place in Minsk and combined the spectacle of live portraiture with inquisitive gallery viewing. Lectures and workshops on the subject of tolerance took place, while Daniel Eisenhut drew members of a community that are so often left out of history lessons. Nude charcoal portraits humanise and immortalise the subjects in Daniel Eisenhut’s pieces. The people who would have once been marked for arrest for their queerness alone. For the pieces produced for this project, Daniel Eisenhut drew with charcoal, one of humanity’s oldest, most primal mediums. By fixing his canvas to the floor, Daniel Eisenhut can kneel and crouch over his canvas while creating. Using his whole body to create, Daniel gives life to his work. These portraits have a realness to them, that comes from the artist’s closeness.
The naked subjects and the minimalism of materials used all serve to bring the viewer as close to the original as possible. Very little stands between the people looking at pictures mounted on the wall, and people they portray. Any of the markers, so often used to judge a person are removed. Without clothes or surroundings to tell us what to think, we must look the person head on. The viewer becomes vulnerable in their own uncertainty.
Daniel Eisenhut then brought the viewers even closer to the people behind his art. The theme of the event was tolerance and human rights. Something that cannot be observed in an impersonal vacuum, cannot therefore be a merely passive art show. Instead, “The Pink Mark” required the interaction and participation, that tolerance in a community requires. It had to provoke and engage.
In order to bring awareness to the weight of intolerance, the dangers of marking, Daniel Eisenhut employed the pink triangles that gave his project its name. Visitors to the show, were given triangles to pin next to the portraits. Triangle of different colours were used to mark those they believed were queer, disabled, and so on. This active participation brings light to the significance of judging an individual on sight, and causes the people involved to observe within themselves, the role that tolerance and intolerance plays. For some, it even gave a sense of identity. Of being seen. Although push back was expected, in such a controversial concept, the public in Belarus, largely accepted the show along with the marking as an opportunity for “self-recognition”.
This was an open space, and the pink marks were pinned openly and kept beside the charcoal portraits throughout. Did the “vote” of other participants effect those of the ones who saw the same pieces, after they had been marked? Perhaps in merely highlighting the ease with which someone can be marked, one was also taught an important lesson in questioning the reasons for our own prejudices. Are our opinions ever ours alone? As the visitors went from viewer of art to subject of self-reflection, “The Pink Mark” served its purpose in bringing awareness to human rights, tolerance, and the forgotten victims of the Holocaust.
The exhibition ran for two weeks in July of 2015. More than 2000 visitors of varying backgrounds came to participate, and learn about the work of BeQueer, Gay Belarus, and Daniel Eisenhut. The project was both a great success and an important springboard for further activism through art. As an unofficial supporter of the project, the Dutch ambassador at the time, was both shocked and impressed by the concept and turn-out.
“The Pink Mark” project in Minsk served to honour the members of the LGBTQ+ community, while giving them a place in the memorial of the Holocaust. On these walls, they were seen, and not forgotten.