This paper examines select paintings by Holocaust survivor and painter Samuel Bak from his recent Just Is
series. The essay explores ways Bak’s art bears witness to suffering. He creatively interrogates and reanimates the iconic figure of Lady Justice and the biblical principle of the lex talionis (“eye for an eye”) in order to fashion alternative icons fit for an age of atrocity and loss. Bak’s artwork gives visual expression to Theodor Adorno’s view of the precariousness of art after Auschwitz. It is art’s responsibility to attend to the burden of real suffering experiences (the burden of the empirical) and to think in contradictions, which renders art both adequate and inadequate in standing up against the injustice of other’s suffering. Through inventive juxtaposition of secular and sacred symbols, Bak displays the paradox of representation after the Holocaust and art’s precarious responsibility giving voice to suffering. Bak fashions visual spaces in which barbarity and beauty coincide and collide. He invites viewers into this space and into dialogue about justice’s standing and promises. Do Bak's remade icons of Just Is
lament a permanent loss of justice and peace, or do they point tentatively to possibilities of life lived in a damaged world with an alternative Just Is
? Bak’s artwork prompts such vexing questions for his viewers to contemplate and leaves them to decide what must be done.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited