Based on an article 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 shadows, ghostly, shapeless, withering, grey become the common vocabulary to characterize them. Victims dressed in tattered, ill fitting, pajama-like uniforms, barely recognizable as human beings.
It is this theme that Joël Bonk explores in his three-piece work Disposable People.
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. May the stories and accounts never fail to freshly weigh our hearts. Still it may seem convenient to keep grieving humanity’s past sins, while forgetting to actively confront and combat the atrocities, victimization and degradation of human life that unfolds before us presently. The title Joël Bonk has chosen for these works, Disposable People, was inspired by Kevin Bales’ in depth account of the millions trapped in slavery today! His book 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 the children, 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.
As in the process which birthed Joël Bonk’s Disposable People, can we 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.