Weisel, Mindy. “AFTER: The Obligation of Beauty”, Whitefox, 2021.
The Search for Beauty
Mindy Weisel’s “After: The Obligation of Beauty” is one of the most visually beautiful books I have ever seen but that is only one reason to add it to your library. It is also a memoir of life and the search for beauty that began in the aftermath of World War II, at the Bergen-Belsen displaced person’s camp during one of the most terrible times in the history of the world. Weisel chronicles
her search to find beauty in her life. She was born in the Bergen-Belsen to parents who had survived the Auschwitz concentration camp. She has struggled to understand the world she was born into and we are with her as she is on her journey to becoming an artist with her own voice, and her “unshakable will” to live with beauty. Filled with her art, narrative, poetry and journals, we are taken into her life and work and her ability to see that beauty and love can overcome tragedy. As she examines her own paintings and glass works, she explores the subtleties of color as ways of expressing emotion. She not only had to deal with her parent’s tragedy but also with their feelings of guilt and despair. One way ease that pain was for her to create art and it became her duty in order to discover joy while experiencing the pain of history. Ultimately she was able to find a life that was endowed with accomplishment, meaning, love and fulfillment both personally and professionally. I believe that all of us seek beauty in her lives and in this is the relevance of Weisel’s gorgeous book.
So many of us struggle to find something positive that came out of the Holocaust and even if we do, it is often bittersweet. This is how I felt as I read “After”.
“Can you imagine
How much has
for one single word
The power of these words shook me and I stopped to think about how many times we do not consider what we say. Beauty is a creation even when it happens naturally and to be able to discern beauty is an art in in itself. While we see Weisel’s response to the Holocaust in her work, we also see the beauty she has struggled to find (and to share with us). That beauty is filled with soul and as she confronts the evil of the past, she find the beauty of the present. History is what makes us who we are so when that history begins in horror, it is not easy to understand it or to find the redemption of beauty in it— yet, here it is. Through what we read and see, we find humanity by confrontation and the articulation and illustration of what has happened to us and what we, as a people, have collectively lived through. It is possible to live a life in the face of evil and to make sure that it will not be allowed to happen again. We cannot deny the past and we surely cannot transform it but we can search for way to understand it.
To synthesize language and art, to gain an understanding of terror is not easy. This is not a guide book to that understanding but it can certainly become one. By not writing about the inhumanity of the times, Weisel looks for a purpose for living. By bringing together visual art and language, we venture beyond just words. Emotion and color come together to inspire us. The experience of this book is not just looking at a page but engaging in a conversation with the author and that chat we share is both verbal and non-verbal and sincere and very real. Not only have I become more aware of the beauty in the world today, I now have a place to go when I quickly want to add beauty to a mundane day. I can just open “After: The Obligation of Beauty” and find it on every page.