Zoran Mušič, We are not the Last…, 1970

Zoran Mušič (1909–2005)

We are not the Last…

1970, oil on canvas


Zoran Mušič is undoubtedly the most internationally renowned Slovene modernist painter. We are not the Last… (1970) forms part of his eponymous series that originated in the early 1970s and continued – with certain, sometimes visually softer variations in diverse media and techniques – into the 1980s. In June 1945, returning home from the Dachau concentration camp, where he had been incarcerated in November 1944 after having been arrested in Italy, Mušič brought with him a number (but not all) of his drawings made in Dachau, mostly in the months after the liberation of the camp, while awaiting transport back home. He had reportedly made around 200 drawings, 115 of which are on record to have survived. Due to the inauspicious circumstances in the new socialist Yugoslavia shortly after the war, the artist left his homeland and went to Italy, and from there, further abroad. It took him more than two decades to confront his concentration camp experiences in his work, in which there had initially been no evidence of them. While Mušič claimed his Dachau drawings had not served as the basis for the We are not the Last… series, the similarities are hard to miss, especially as he was still in possession of some of the drawings at the time he started the series. In his view, he only became a real artist with this body of work. The palette here is very earthy, bitter and drab, and the recurrent motif, dead bodies with emphasized heads (in particular gaping mouths), (male) genitals, and hands (fingers). It is noteworthy how skillfully the artist transferred this earthiness that flirts with the color and structure of raw canvas into “dream” by bringing reality to the point of hallucination and thus, the suspension of likelihood. It did happen, but it seems as though it hadn’t. It is in this light that Mušič’s resistance and opposition to documentary depiction of the horrors must be seen. At the same time, it is indicative of the ambivalence of memory and reminiscing in the visual: up close, the applications of paint in interplay with the bare canvas create the effect of a scene both appearing and disappearing; as though the painting were unfinished… An analogy with landscapes is hardly out of place here: what at first glance looks like a landscape without landmarks suddenly transforms into – to paraphrase the artist – a landscape of dead bodies. The architects of the so-called final solution designed not only the industry of death, but also the industry of erasing all traces of death. Mušič foregrounds this fragile invisible-visible trace at the point where reality in all its insufferableness is transmuted into hallucination.

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