MUSEUM STUDIES:

THE ARTWORK OF RICHARD HEIPP

 

GERMANIC GUILT SYMBOLS (1987-1991)

The major themes in this series confront personal issues surrounding Heipp’s cultural heritage and his experience growing up in post-World War II America as a child of European immigrants of German ancestry. Heipp explains that in this series he “layers the negative cultural issues and stereotypes imposed on Germanic culture with metaphors and symbols surrounding broader concepts of political and personal security and/or fear.”


Heipp’s parents immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio in early 1952, the year he was born. According to him, as a child he was quite conscious and embarrassed “when confronted with the overwhelming and deservedly negative stereotypical representation of German culture as one of ‘the enemy,’ evil and defeated.” Heipp recounts that at home he frequently heard the references to the Batschka, a region near Bosnia where his family’s ancestral home was located, and the Donau Swabians, Bavarian Germans that migrated down the Danube River to settle in Yugoslavia, terms he thought were merely referring to regions in Germany. It was not until he was a young adult that realized his parents were not originally from Germany. His parents were ethnic Germans who for more than 100 years occupied the Batschka region of Yugoslavia and he discovered his parents only lived in Germany once they were displaced there following World War II.


Thereafter, Heipp was “inspired to investigate concepts surrounding personal and cultural security and fear.” His interest was fueled by several synchronistic events including the 50th anniversary of the conclusion of World War II, and the 150th anniversary of the Donau Swabians settling in Yugoslavia. According to him, “the primary source of imagery for this series was appropriated from the haunting propaganda and documentary photographs of Nazi Germany. These frequently frightening and horrific Germanic images are combined and tissued with shapes and colors. They serve as symbols and metaphors for cultural security and fear brought about by the usurping of one’s personal identity, home, culture, or government.”


Heipp explains that many of the issues in German Guilt Symbols “were the seeds for the ideas surrounding ‘cultural blindness,’” a concept explored in the series Cultural Strabismus (1996-2000). With these works, he aims to “evoke the genuine danger of a government left unchecked and the betrayal of one’s culture and identity through extremist nationalism.” He adds that “this work serves as a reminder of the innocent victims of the atrocities committed by unbridled extremism.”  “…this type of cultural blindness,” Heipp asserts, “in which people ignore what they are seeing in favor radical nationalism, racial extremism, and excessive governmental authority is still present in our world today. This work serves as a mnemonic warning sign stressing the criticality of maintaining one’s individual identity, moral compass, and a compassionate belief system in spite of external social pressures and political extremism.”