Judy Mandelbaum

Judy Mandelbaum
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June 01
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MARCH 16, 2010 5:05PM

Artist photographs baby daughter as Hitler

Rate: 33 Flag

Baby Hitler
Faustina as Hitler
(All images: ninakleivan.dk)

Danish-Norwegian artist Nina Maria Kleivan has chosen a graphic way of exploring the subject of evil. Kleivan, who herself was raised by a Norwegian father who had spent time in a German prison camp, dressed her baby daughter Faustina up as some of the most evil figures in the twentieth century and photographed her for an art project.

 

 

Baby Stalin  
Faustina as Stalin 

The idea came to her when Faustina's difficult delivery confined her to bed for months with a pelvic infection. Out of sheer boredom she started sewing together bits of cloth and created tiny costumes. She started with Napoleon, then moved on to Catherine the Great and Julius Caesar. But somehow these figures seemed too distant, too theatrical. Then on a whim she sewed a Hitler uniform, and turned a new page in photographic history.

 

Baby Mussolini  
Faustina as Mussolini
 

Explaining her exhibit “Potency” to Haaretz recently, Kleivan said: “We all have evil within us. Even small children are evil towards each other.” She went on to say that “You need to be conscious that your actions have consequences that impact on your fellow human beings. The people I let my daughter portray didn't give a damn about the human cost, the casualties, their thoughts caused.”

 

Faustina as Mao  
Faustina as Mao 

Due to her father’s experiences as a resistance fighter, Kleivan, who was born in Oslo in 1960, grew up with a hatred of Germany. For years she carried the German prison guard’s name on a slip of paper in her pocket so that she could murder him on sight. “Even though my father stressed that you shouldn't hate anyone, not least the Germans. Hatred is a dead end."

Kleivan first exhibited the photos back in 2000 and is publishing them in a new collection of her work entitled Enigma, which covers her work from 1988 to the present. Faustina herself is now a thoroughly peaceful eleven year-old girl with a talent for the violin.

 

Baby Pinochet  
Faustina as Pinochet 

The images have shocked many viewers, who have complained to Kleivan that dressing her daughter up as bloodthirsty dictators has crossed a line. “I've pondered that a lot myself,” the artist said. “Could I really do this? I agree it’s on the verge, especially Hitler, whom I and most others view as the incarnation of evil. He and Stalin were the hardest to do… It almost caused me physical pain to pull the Nazi armband over her little arm.”

Baby Saddam 
Faustina as Saddam Hussein

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Oh my goodness, this is powerful and troubling, However she named her daughter after a saint-Faustina, so maybe that balances it out? It is troubling to think that these people were once babies themselves.
While I am not shocked by this, I find the artist's essential premise to be incorrect. We do not all have evil in us. It is that lie that perpetuates the idea of evil. The Hitlers of world are very very very small in number. They are clearly born mentally sick with a power to manipulate many. How sad I am for a child to be raised in a home where she is already believed to be capable of evil. Small children are not evil to each other...what a ridiculous reduction of the acts of terrorists and dictators. Children have conflicts. They are simply not inherently evil. I think this may be child abuse.
If somebody isn't shocked, then you are probably doing something wrong.
I think if it makes people talk, that's probably a good thing.
Great post.
Um. Hmm? Uh, not sure what to make of this. I do appreciate her qualification for this work as a sort of affirmation of her father's warning: Hatred is a dead end. I may be a bit cynical, but, I find these photographs a bit trite opposed to portraying any real ideology on her part. Hope you are enjoying Vienna! xx a
There's something interesting about this, but I can't quite put my finger on it. The combination of innocence and cruelty perhaps, the latter being the ultimate loss of innocence.
But why no military cap on Hitler?
R
I wish someone had asked Faustina first. What a shame._r
Not to be too flip about it, but it's a nice change from all those Anne Geddes photos.

Seriously, it's provocative, but I'm not sure if it really goes beyond that.
Anybody else remember this?

http://www.theonion.com/content/node/34766
I cannot reconcile the juxtaposition of the concept evil on a baby who is, to me, a symbol of innocence. Thus there's something warped in the basic premise of this concept by the "artist". Perhaps she had a creative lull and mis used her talents in such a project.
Thank you, Judy, for the post.
Rated.
Thanks for sharing this story and these images with us Judy.

I agree with Robin - I don't think we universally possess evilness within us. I do think there are chemically and biologically based illnesses which factor in some people becoming essentially "evil."

In the mental health field such folks may be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (aka sociopathic personality disorder. Per DSM criteria, a minor does not qualify for a personality disorder (though alot of clinicians ignore this and diagnose them anyway). Then there's the whole debate about mental illness vs responsibility, and the LEVELS or TYPES of mental illness, etc....

I do find the images associated with the such personifications of evil and cruelty splashed on a small child to be profoundly disturbing, and possibly exploitive. Perhaps there is some credence to the message of the artist, but it seems hollow and superficial.

~r!
Wow! these images are distrubing. I wonder how the child is going to feel when she realizes she was dressed up as sadistic leaders by her mom.
I like them.

I think the message should be that even Hitler was a baby once. Everyone has the potential to do good things and bad things. Calling someone "the incarnation of evil" trivializes the complex reality behind the person.

Nazi Germany was not some bizarre and improbable confluence of evil people, it was a society with a diversity of personalities just like any other. They just happened to go down the wrong road. Understanding what that road was and why it took them where it did is essential if we want to avoid such tragedies in the future. Blaming the whole thing on one "evil" person just papers over the important questions.

When I can't see any good in a person I often picture them as an innocent child and try to imagine what led them to where they are. These images embody that kind of mental exercise nicely.
Remember (or are you still experiencing) Anne Geddes who would dress babies up as flowers or vegetables and photograph them??? This is just the slightly darker version of those images.
Henry, I agree with you - none of us are "pure evil" anymore than any of us are "completely without blemish." Hitler himself, while viewed by many as being a very mediocre artist, painted some very lovely pastoral scenes in water color that belie his reputation for atrocities.

My concern with this so called art is how it literally wraps a small child with the symbolism of evil.
I'm reminded of a few scenes in Bruno.
My problem with these photos is that because they contain an adorable baby, upon first glance they register as "cute" and "funny." Even when you look closer, and when you know the background and the message, they veer into camp. A talented artist can venture into a bizarre land where madness meets macabre meets parody and circles back around to say something profound about madness (Inglorious Bastards comes to mind). This isn't that.
It took a few minutes to process...
My first thought, from your headline alone, was that it was inappropriate on so many levels, and an unimaginably exploitative use of one's child.
A little time with it and my considered opinion is very different from that snap judgment.
Powerful stuff!
I think it was unimaginably brave of the artist to use her child in that way - I think I would be much more troubled by a parent who would lend their child to the artist for the session. But it makes the statement that much more powerful.
That's one cute baby in some weird costumes. She's not evil, the costumes aren't evil. The men (let's have some gender equality here and dress her as Lizzy Borden or Lucrezia Borgia, eh?) were the evil ones. The mother/photographer is no more sick or twisted than any little girl playing with Barbies.
Where's baby Reagan?
How cute! This is the coolest thing any parent has ever done with an infant!
Where is the photo of a baby dressed up like George Bush or Dick Cheney. Now that would be scary!
It's strange, for sure, but I can't get past the cute baby. It diminishes the evil implied by the outfit.
It's interesting that so many of us can't figure out whether to give this a thumbs up or a thumbs down. It's one or the other, for sure, but it's hard to tell which.

I guess I think all humans possess the potential for evil. I'm currently reading a book called The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo, the administrator of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment. He used that experiment's results--that almost anybody from any background can become sadistic--to testify on behalf of the defense for the low-rung perpetrators of the Abu Graib abuse. His contention is that systems that are methodically created by groups of humans and by policy create the context for good people to turn evil, and he was outraged that higher ups like Cheney and Rumsfeld bore no accountability for the torture while their underlings spend years in jail.

All this is to say, I get what this art exhibit is about. The juxtaposition between innocence and evil is provocative, indeed, and that's what art is for. Her title, Potency, is pitch perfect.

Two more things occur to me:
1. Cultural context is enormously powerful. There would be an entirely different reaction to this admittedly already disturbing exhibit if the artist herself or her background were deemed to be anti-Semitic or racist. It goes to show that everything is relative. I'm talking about the exact same exhibit. Context matters.
2. Couldn't she have used a realistic looking doll? Joan H's comment about permission from the baby haunts me.
Excellent post. Art ,in whatever form it may take, is meant to be provocative. I think it is wonderful and fascinating that so many people are discussing this and have such visceral responses to these images. Rated.

Stephanie
these images are disturbing...and they should be. I like what the artist is saying, though do not believe anyone is born evil. We are born with talents and gifts and a choice of how to use them. We are in need of protection, loving guidance and education to make choices that will benefit and progress civilization. When a child is not loved, protected and educated properly (balance of spiritual and scientific knowledge) then evil things can and do happen.
This seems more like one of those jokes that got a "message" attached to it. Seems like the costumes are a fun gag and any message is just bleh.
I'm with Robin. I, too, think this may be child abuse. When this girl grows up she is going to have some heavy issues to deal with. I have to admit I have wondered what certain personality types were like as children and how in the world they grew up to be so dysfunctional.
i don't find this particularly disturbing or artistic. the baby is too cute. i don't believe in original sin or the concept that children are inherently evil towards one another.

i don't know why, but i just don't get much of anything out of these pictures.
Re: Lainey "2. Couldn't she have used a realistic looking doll? "

I'm not sure it would be the same - a "real" versus "imitation" thing.
Real people have real potential to do real evil.

There is no imitation evil as best as I can tell.
(Evil, however, has been known to pose as imitation good.)

A question it raises is what, where, is the 'birth' of evil in a person, in a society?

After a person descends into evil is it possible to turn away and regain innocence? To be 're-born' without evil?
Or is once evil 'born' in a person there no recovery, no restoration?

A helpless infant is dressed as evil persons: were those persons likewise helpless against the evil which consumed them?
The infant was dressed by another larger being she could not control, could in no way successfully resist: were the persons represented made to be evil by larger forces they could neither control nor resist?

This immature infant was able to be taken and costumed by another.
Were those represented persons who were consumed by evil able to become so via some immaturity on their part?

A few of the facial expressions appear almost bewildered or fearful: were the people represented ever at some level of their being bewildered by what they had become; fearful of who they had become?

Did they visit unspeakable horrors upon their fellow man while finding within themselves genuine love and affection for their own children, if any?

Human beings are complex, contradictory, mixes, mashes, and muddyings of cause, effect, motive, mind, heart, and who can ever know for certain how much of what else.
i understand the 'whats' of it, it's just that for some reason it doesn't work for me in this case.
The fact that these images has caused this much talk in just a few hours is indicative of the success of the artist's work. Not all art exists simply for people to stare at and gasp and say "Oh, how beautiful!" Much artwork exists for people to stare at and gasp at the reflections they find of their own selves, inner beliefs, etc.

To the people who are claiming this is "child abuse" - REALLY NOW. Dressing a baby up in costumes and taking pictures of it is child abuse now? Guess you're going to jail for all those cutesy pics of your little rugrat in the hotdog costume from last Halloween. Get a grip. The kid doesn't know what the costumes are; she just knows Mom put some clothes on her and took a picture. Maybe you should do some volunteering and spend some time with some ACTUAL abused children so you can stop throwing that term around as hyperbole any time you see something like this that makes you uncomfortable.

P.S. If looking at these pictures made you uncomfortable, maybe you should sit down and think about that and examine why.
Cute? Funny? You people need help. And a history lesson. (Many of them, apparently.)
What... no baby George W Bush?
Really interesting concept especially in the context of the artist's life. The detail of the slip of paper in her pocket is revealing, and I appreciate her apprehension at putting the swastika on Faustina's arm. I don't necessarily think we all have evil inside, or that children are evil to one another--mean, maybe, but not evil. Instead, do we all have the capacity to perform evil acts? Kleivan has succeeded in bringing difficult ideas out into the open, and I for one think that's one thing art is about.
I'm with Henry on this. I like them, as well. Everyone has the capability to do good or evil, and people often look at this figures from history as being evil innate. This is a distortion, an illusion. Everyone has had childhoods filled with joy, love, friends, and enemies. We are call capable of good and evil.
Alaska Progressive,
You are right on.
she's a lunatic. it doesn't mean she isn't talented, only that she's fucking dipshit who tarred and feathered her own kid. those images of her daughter are HER DAUGHTER. and that kid is going to grow up and at some point question why her mother would exploit her this way..visualize her this way, do it publicly AND AND name her faustina. faustina!
the kid btw, is adorable. would the effects have been as laughable however, if her baby was say, not so pretty or handicapped? this woman is an idiot. I feel sorry for the baby, though. this is the only mother she has.
I'm with robin. damned right this is child abuse. she's USING her child. she could have used a doll, one of those dolls that appears almost alive. and like robin, I'm appalled at the notion that children are evil. children have no morals. That's our job. But what they are, is a blank slate. You put upon them what you believe for them.

As I stated earlier: this woman is mentally ill. That kid should go live with a nice relative and change her name. Faustina. jesus h christ.

btw...this one definitely hit a nerve.
@ FusunA:

"I cannot reconcile the juxtaposition of the concept evil on a baby who is, to me, a symbol of innocence."

Well, here's some breaking news. Babies aren't symbols of anything. They're people larvae. Symbolism is in your own head.

That's why this is an interesting work. The juxtaposition is exactly what the artist intended, and clearly you're more vulnerable to these meme than others. You might want to go think about that for a while.
Pictures didn't bother me. I like those actually.
I think it is important to remember that none of these babies who grew up to become famous, or infamous, as mass murderers were born that way. From a Judeao-Christian perspective each individual is born fallen into a fallen creation. Human beings are not by nature either good or evil. As C. S. Lewis once said, they are twisted, i.e., capable of doing both good and evil. In another time and place, those portrayed might have grown up to become great humanitarians, rather than monsters. Most of them were trying to create a utopia on earth. Their "love" for humanity in the abstract caused them to overlook the individual and the value of the individual as the basis for any society that would call itself civilized.
southwestforests: I love all your questions and ideas. Very interesting! I think you're probably right about the fake baby not quite hitting the right note (or whatever note the artist wanted to hit).
I don't care what y'all say... I think the photos are fab. These are family photos indicating how the woman raises her child. These are works of art... and sometimes art makes you uncomfortable. I doubt the child will endure any long-term damage from being dressed up, unless there was chaffing.
OOPS - I meant these AREN'T family photos.
Sure it was St. Faustina and not Faustina the Roman Empress?
At least the photographer was smart enough not to dress the baby up in a GW Bush uniform.
fascinating and deeply disturbing. As art should be.

My mother-in-law still carries the decayed clipping of the sentencing of the nazi soldier who shot her mother dead on the street.
Brilliant stuff! Grade A+ Art!

=)
Powerful. Provocative. I think it's a big mistake to think we are NOT capable of evil. Context, circumstance, opportunity. Let's not think we are immune to becoming someone we don't recognize. Great post.
I applaud her because it mentions the parent's responsibility in the dilemma of moral rationality.

I see parents all around me creating newly disaffected children by the cruelty.. they see it as dominant parenting.

It is powerful symbolism.. but not in the same way that others see it.. or even the author.

People are missing the obvious (long held issues for the guard).. So sor her.. I think it was an exorcism of the murderous intent when she became a parent and realized that murder would probably not be on her schedule.. so instead she had to express her indignation in another way.

As for the kid.. I think she's be proud of her participation in her mother's obviously brave stance of communicating personal responsibility.
Okay, I know I am Missing The Point, but how did she get her daughter to keep the caps on? Hat removal was a skill my daughters learned by about one week old. Maybe that's why baby Hitler doesn't have one?

Sorry, but that's all the further I've been able to get my head around these pictures. Many good points made in these comments both in favor of and opposed to the pictures. I can't decide which way I lean. The baby sure is cute though.
As a Jewish woman whose relatives were survivors I find this repulsive. Someone needs to set this woman straight--it's not cute, funny or even artistically interesting. And God knows what affect this will have on her child! Evil at the level of a Hitler is simply incomprehensible for most people, which is one of the reasons we still talk about the Holocaust--no one can quite believe something like this could EVER happen! Yes, throughout history there have been horrific individuals who, through their own personal power and machinations, could do terrible deeds on their fellow human beings, but we need not glorify these people nor should we make light of them! By taking advantage of the innocence of this child I feel this artist has actually committed another crime!
Powerful, troubling and hilarious. The baby has yet to formulate a political ideology, the mom is an artist - if she were a skinhead I'd probably feel differently. At least she's not sticking the kid into a giant pea pod or making her wear an elaborate flower around her face.
What, no Kim Ill of North Korea. Whats wrong with these people?
She forgot one! GEORGE W BUSH!
Up and down the line of comments American inheritance has made itself clear... No one of you shares the lady´s perception... everybody missed out by a mile....
How about going back to school...??
Correction.... going to a real school..!!
without religious indoctrination....
From the GripeVine.... & Donah..//
Interesting at first, but like a male strip show, after the third image, I felt bored. And I wouldn't define it as art.

For me one of the most powerful artworks about the holocaust is Maus, by Art Spiegelman, a cartoon, where the Nazis are drawn as cats and Jews as mice. Spiegelman's choice of archetypal picture book adversaries makes his story all the more chilling. I think this photographer was trying to tap into the same thing, innocence rendering evil as evil squared, but it doesn't work the same way for me.
I like it. Tho I'd not have included Mao, it's arguable. Well done and thanks for this.
I don't know this child, or the context of the situation of this mother-child relationship to know whether this is 'good or bad.' I rarely view things from that paradigm anyway. So, to project my ideas about how this will affect her seems a sense of over-responsibility to me. I do find it interesting what some people consider child abuse and at other times do not. I think we all bare a responsibility to check our own life filters first.

I think the photos make us speak. Art that causes conversation is powerful, if not disturbing. Sometimes I like disturbing, dark art. I am rather indifferent to the art itself, but, I am thankful for the conversation. It helps me to cement what is imaginary in this world.

Lastly, the only line I ever tell anyone about from the AA Big Book is the line, "they, like us, were perhaps spiritually sick." This is a line which occurs when a recovery member is looking to take a different view on all the perceived wrongdoing which they suffered under. When you remember the "like us" part, it shows your understanding of how you are intricately connected to humanity and that yes, that very evil, or the potential for it, lies in you. It takes a huge degree of humility to understand this. Barack Obama spoke those words when visiting Auschwitz in 2008, which is one of the things which impressed me about him - this fundamental understanding of human nature and the collective human experience.

Whether we are born with evil or dark energy is interesting to ponder...it depends on your take of past lives or not. It also doesn't take into account what can develop during a lifetime through circumstance.

In my life, the moment I judge something, I know that is nothing more than an invitation to experience it.
It might be art and I understand the concept of innocent and evil however I personally I would not take my baby and dress it in a fascist costume or any political figure really. I just wouldn't. I might use a doll to make the point ...
If this is art, then Paris Hilton's dog Tinkerbell is La Gioconda.
Judy, you do such an amazing job of picking topics that force people to think in complicated ways.

A while ago, I found this article that suggests that babies just might be evil...

http://www.cracked.com/article_18404_6-shockingly-evil-things-babies-are-capable-of.html
Actually, another post drove me to your post. I am torn here... not sure what to think. Bizarrely, from an early age, I have read with horror and I admit, fear and fascination accounts of Nazi concentration camps and the histories and philosophies surrounding that period of World War II. I don't think we often realize or think much that this type of brutality and monster in human form exists right now in places like Rwanda.

Part of me thinks baby exploitation dressed and photographed with no consent but I can't help but appreciate the black humor - the irony of thinking of these evil monsters with bunched up diapers in their pants. Disturbing yet amusing and thought provoking. Very strong and we know Faustina is an innocent babe not an evil monster in human form. The juxtapositioning is striking and I'm sure Faustina enjoyed all the attention she got totally unconscious and oblivious to what she was wearing. I'm still torn.
This is disturbing, but it is art. It makes you feel something and makes you think. I am not offended. Rated.
I LOVE these! How clever and wonderful. I wish when people ask “wanna see my baby?” they'd whip these out!
Not sure what to make of it, but thank you for posting..... Sorry I find it troubling and somewhat....damn if I know... Somehow the shoot of the baby as Hitler looks a lot less threatening, a man I consider evil beyond words. Ok, I tried to described how I feel and I still can't put into words....
Come on, folks, it's not child abuse. Faustina is not aware of anything but the difference between naked and dressed, and maybe not even that.

What it IS is a powerful work. Clearly, people are reading a lot of things into it, some of them completely contradictory. My first reaction was instinctive distaste, but as I worked through the series, that changed.

What I see is the photographer reminding us that even these monsters of history were once innocent babies -- or at least, LOOKED like innocent babies.

They were babies. Then they were children. Then they were grown. Were they monsters from the start? If not, when did they become monsters? They had human DNA. (Is it DNA which makes us human, or the possession of a human conscience?) The work reminds us to quit acting as if these men hatched full-grown under a rock somewhere.
These big companies really love to throw their weight around don't they. Online shopping and discounts are surely subject to the seller and their product
Misel
Blue Waffle
he looks horrible, poor baby...