Remembering for the Children
redhanded: a songe forre the loste
Marilyn Satin Kushner
Curator and Head of the Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, New-York Historical Society, New York, NY
Fine art is visual communication. Some people reveal themselves best through poetry, others through music or the spoken word. Some people write. kore loy wildrekinde-mcwhirter exposes her soul through her images. She once quoted Carl Jung who stated that “often the hands know how to solve a riddle with which the intellect has wrestled in vain.” wildrekinde-mcwhirter has struggled with the horrors of her childhood for years and in redhanded: a songe forre the loste she divulges a frightful past that continues to haunt her today. And, like a survivor of the Holocaust, she is driven to tell her story so that the world will know about these children. She wrote that like “a wailing wall and war memorials, I have made these etchings and poems as a witness, a place of mourning and remembrance for the children, and more specifically for girls, who are broken and lost to the commonplace violence which circumscribes our lives.”
Born in 1950, kore loy wildrekinde-mcwhirter spent the first ten years of her life in a Germanic community in the jungles of Paraguay. Based on medieval Anabaptist societies (as well as unnamed secret societies), her world was isolated from the twentieth century. Her father was a radical pacifist who resorted clandestinely to a violence that her mother chose to accept. The men in this community ruled and the women surrendered everything to them, including their children. The children lived in a world of physical, emotional, and sexual violence and became accustomed to it - but they always lived in fear of it. And, the children learned that submission, withdrawal, and dissociation was a means of self-protection. wildrekinde-mcwhirter learned how to dissociate within the reality in Paraguay. After a decade of existing this way, her parents took her back to the United States where they settled in North Carolina. The Paraguay years were formative ones for the young girl, and wildrekinde-mcwhirter has spent the rest of her life coping with the ramifications of such a destructive and unimaginable experience.
It is probably not coincidental that wildrekinde-mcwhirter’s work hearkens back to the German fifteenth-century printmaker Martin Schongauer (ca. 1440/45-1491). Like the printmaker five hundred years before her, wildrekinde-mcwhirter lived in a Germanic medieval environment where religion was based on a fear of surreal forces. These visions of monsters, demons, and sexual power are found in the art of both printmakers. As in her work, the beauty of Schongauer’s incised line stands at odds with the surreal horror of some of his images. And, the images of both artists drip with violence. Another artist that wildrekinde-mcwhirter’s art recalls is Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1450-1516) whose work is filled with a penetrating satirical commentary that is similar to wildrekinde-mcwhirter’s biting compositions. Curiously, one can also see references to Käthe Kollwitz’s (1867-1945) work, especially in terms of the intense empathy that Kollwitz demonstrated for children who suffered. Like Kollwitz, wildrekinde-mcwhirter expresses grief for the children, and for her own childhood, as well as an outrage that those in the seemingly innocent times of their lives are forced into circumstances that are far from that.
redhanded: a songe forre the loste serves as an enduring record and reminder of not only the children in the Paraguay group but of all children who are forced into a life of horrific nightmares that are only too real to them. wildrekinde-mcwhirter stated that “i have attempted to draw with images and words what it feels like for the child trapped in extreme, ongoing, and unpredictable terror and its lasting effects upon childhood and nature.” Her prints depict the horrid men who rule all, the mothers which wildrekinde-mcwhirter had to portray as cats because she could not picture a mother who chose not to protect her child, and references to the paralyzing acts of terror that the children were subjected to all too frequently. Where is the mercy in this upended religion that is based on convoluted thinking?
How did kore loy wildrekinde-mcwhirter escape all of this? After her departure from Paraguay and settlement in North Carolina her courage and curiosity led her to seek out the truth concerning other cultures about which she knew nothing as well as the truth about her past. She found comfort in libraries as places of learning and revelation - they became her cathedrals. And, she had a powerful desire to relate her story, perhaps as much for herself as for the children. Her images can be interpreted on a number of levels: a plea for the world to know what exists, a plea for help for these children who still survive, and a cry out for the children who have died from this violence. As wildrekinde-mcwhirter faces the horrors, as she draws the scenes that she lived, she can begin to come to peace with it. She declared that “one simply has to find a way to live with the horrors and the fact that they continue. i have to face this every day.” Hers is a lifelong journey. “i cannot heal myself until all are healed,” she said.
We are left with some of the most arresting and fearsome images that have been produced in recent years. Unlike Schoengauer or Bosch, wildrekinde-mcwhirter’s are based on fact, a truth that makes them even more frightening. But they are also beautiful, not only in their technical perfection, but in their attestation to what has occurred and the bravery it took to document it. kore loy wildrekinde-mcwhirter is, indeed, an elegant printmaker who has a message that will resonate with anyone who views her work.
redhanded: a songe forre the loste
curator essay ~ Marilyn Kushner