Baerbel Claus

Image of Man (Menschenbild)

The problems of the world cannot be solved by individuals, but only by many who are interested in the solution. However, the first steps towards mobilizing people are always enlightenment and appeal. Art is often accused of not being able to change political or social grievances. But that's wrong, artists can provoke, analyse and visually bring evil to the point. Many artists contribute by artistically presenting their personal world view and the things that are close to their hearts to an audience that is touched and shaken by strikingly designed works of art. The famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei has put it succinctly: “If my art has nothing to do with people's worries and pains, then what is art for?”

Baerbel Claus also works in this sense. Her focus is on the consequences of social injustice, environmental pollution and the exploitation of the continent of Africa, where she lived for twenty years. The experience of completely different cultures, religions and traditions has influenced her art to this day, although she has been living in Germany for some time now. She completed most of her training at various institutions in Africa, so that her artistic language is often African.

The exhibition shown here, with three new works, some older ones and photographs of works that are particularly close to her heart, is entitled 'Menschenbild' (Image of Man). The human being is always at the center of her work, his life, his ideas, but also his actions in good and evil. However, Baerbel Claus never becomes bold in her works, despite all her appealing intentions, for which the creative process is too important to her. The examination of the subject always corresponds with the examination of the material and the design. “The works grow”, as she formulates it herself. Initial ideas are followed by sketches, material tests, material sightings, then the first superstructures and combinations are carried out. Often, it is only then that disturbing things are recognized and removed, and defects filled. Thus, she works her way up to the point where statement and aesthetics harmonize for her.

The new work Beschnitten’ (Circumcised) deals with a bad tradition in Africa, the circumcision of young girls. This barbarity, handed down from different religions and old traditions, is still practiced today. Baerbel Claus approaches the subject subtly and drastically at the same time. She filled an old, warped type case, through which a crack runs, with various objects and a word “TAMU”. Clams - complete as well as broken - and the sign for femininity refer to a feminine context, as does the photo of a little girl below. This is Tamu, a four-year-old child who has already been mutilated. If one circles the sculpture, the crack dominates on the back of the set case. It was emphasized by the artist in color so that it resembles a vulva or a gaping wound. The crack also symbolizes the mental wound, the abrupt and painful incision in a child's life.

The work 'Angriff auf die Natur’ (Attack on Nature), on the other hand, is supposedly harmless. Grain stalks, evenly embedded in a block of clay, underneath an old piece of railway sleeper, subtly painted on the sides. But here, too, the title gives a first clue. Who attacks and with what? The extensive use of herbicides, both before and during the growth phase of the grain, is denounced here. Both the clay and the wooden block allow liquid to seep through, as does the soil, and allow pollutants to enter the groundwater, as indicated by the artist in colour.

Baerbel Claus calls ‘Sprüche 19,14’ (Proverbs 19,14) another exemplary work and thus refers to a biblical passage. It reads 'House and possessions bequeathed by parents, but a sensible wife comes from the Lord'. We see women sitting together in a circle. Casual, self-confident, with child or without. All wear trousers and ties. The image of women has changed, but some things remain - the family still consists (mostly) of the man, to be seen here as a semi-existent silhouette, woman and child. The woman without a child - here the tie was highlighted in colour - is included in the circle as is the pregnant woman. All have their place. What is the interpretation of the Bible passage that Baerbel Claus has intensively studied, today? Exegesis is certainly not my speciality, but I think that this is a call to women to use their intellect and to use common sense both in education and in their profession and to form their own opinions. This can have the Bible as its foundation and at the same time be oriented to social circumstances. The image of human beings equals the image of women equals the image of men are subject to constant change, which must always be adapted to moral guidelines.

Baerbel Claus goes through the world as a committed Christian, a citizen of the world and an attentive observer of open mind, whereby Africa always remains in the field of vision. Her image of man is shaped by different cultures, traditions, religions and living conditions. She has seen more countries than most of us and is artistically able to translate her impressions and subjective views aesthetically demanding and at the same time touching.

Our image of man is Christian and occidental, it is one of many and Baerbel Claus broadens our horizon by adding facets. Thus the torso is an important element of her formal language, it reduces the human being to the physical, but at the same time it is also the symbol par excellence for the human being. Incomplete, imperfect, often lost, the torsos seem lost and yet at their core, at their innermost - human.

The mere viewing of her works as 'works of art' already triggers a series of associations, tactile stimuli are set by the different materiality and surfaces. Colours are used as symbols and the craftsmanship reveals itself in the composition and design of the self-created objects made of clay and porcelain. Their successful use of found objects in the overall composition shows their aesthetic potential.

I now hope that you will be able to walk through this exhibition with an open eye, like the artist through the world, and not only enjoying the works, but also being inspired to reflect.

Kirsten Schwarz-Gahlmann
Art Historian