„The world is not threatened by evil people but by those who allow evil things to happen.”
The question of what constitutes ‘evil’ has been engaging humanity since ancient times. An eternal subject, a familiar subject – an exhausted subject? Far from it, ‘evil’ in its universality is still prevailing, always showing its face anew. Throughout history, people have tried to grasp ‘evil’ by picturing it, hoping to recognise and thus prevent it. This desire has been expressed in pseudo-sciences such as physiognomy and phrenology.
In the 20th century, the image of ‘evil’ has been represented by the faces of many cruel dictators and despots. Their faces have become modern incarnations of ‘evil’. Kept alive through photography and film, the portraits of people like Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin and Saddam Hussein have become deep-seated in the world’s collective memory. How were these men able to reach positions that enabled them to act out their ruthless and often cruel tendencies?
Here, Einstein’s quote gives us an important clue: Because society allowed them, sometimes even encouraged them, to do their ‘evil’. This suggests that a multitude of faces of active and passive accomplices stand behind the face of every dictator. Whilst everyone joins in to say „Never again!” after a reign of terror has ended, history shows that new tyrants can be allowed to rise to power again and again, in all parts of the world. This realization has inspired
FACES OF EVIL.
Between November, 2007 and March, 2008, we took photographs of over 350 people in Hamburg, Munich, Vienna, Dresden, Frankfurt, Berlin, Amsterdam, Moscow, Belgrade, London, Barcelona, Paris and Milan. From them emerged the thirteen FACES OF EVIL, assembled from faces of people of the same ethnic origin as the according dictators. For example, the portrait of Hitler consists of 37 people. His nose belongs to an estate agent from Berlin, his upper lip to a locksmith in Dresden. His hair is put together from the hair of an artist in Weiden and a painter in Bamberg. The chin stems from a Hamburg restaurant owner, the eyes are those of a bank advisor in Frankfurt, the lachrymal sacks are from a precision mechanic in Bautzen, the throat is that of a Viennese banker, the beard belongs to a chef from Wuppertal… Every wrinkle, eyebrow and mole has been replicated true to the original so that it is possible to get a direct and close impression of every scar, nose hair, wide pore and other fine details.
But what do these composites stand for? A pars pro toto, showing that under the right circumstances, there is, if not a Hitler, then a potential accomplice or at least someone who ‘allows’ dictatorship in every one of us? At least they clearly show that cruel men such as Mao Zedong, Ceauşescu or Franco were people made of flesh and blood like everybody else, a phenomenon that Hannah Arendt called ‘the banality of evil’. They are not the abstract ‘monsters’ we try to disguise them as in order to distance ourselves from them.
Through the special and unusual way they were created, the FACES OF EVIL challenge us to deal with the human nature of tyrants on one hand and on the other hand with the fact that many helpers hide behind the head of a dictator, together creating the collective face of a dictatorship.
Christian Lechelt, Hans Weishäupl