Born in 1941 and garnering numerous international awards since the 1970s, Raul Meel discovered his identity as an artist in the late 1960s. Since then he has been actively involved in creating both images and texts, functioning as both a performance and installation artist. His working methods and image development have been likened to the composition of music. In the exhibition at Tallinn Art Hall, Meel will showcase two picture series inspired by specific poems: The Song of Solomon and Они наши (They Are Ours, also known as Prayers). In the first series he presents visual interpretations of the Old Testament’s Song of Solomon, while in the second, he selects names of forced labour camps mentioned in Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, transforming them into silent witnesses that prompt reflection on the contradictions of the human condition. Both series, spanning 2008-2010 and 1987-2018 respectively, have appeared in multiple versions, including bound formats.
“I believe that as the viewer and reader peruse the texts and images within my prayer book, they can, under their influence, keenly grasp the insane and senseless enormity of the Gulag once again – the still haunting, timeless culpability of this boundless sin. The responsibility to redeem the injustice and torment endured by those who suffered there falls upon the compassionate individuals of today. Evil deeds were not confined to the Gulag. All tribulations, suffering and redemption are intertwined with us, us, us…” Raul Meel expresses in the text accompanying his Gulag-themed work. Now an elderly and wise artist, he presents at the exhibition the words of Paul the Apostle: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love!” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Krzysztof Piętka, born in Oświęcim in 1990 and a graduate of the Art Academy in Katowice with a degree in painting, mirrors Raul Meel’s relentless creativity through his obsessive exploration of the Holocaust. His tireless and methodical approach starkly and tenderly reveals the impact of evil in human history on his art. Tenderness arises from the fact that the family home of Krzysztof Piętka, the cornerstone of his historical memory and contemplation, was and still is situated within the grounds of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“I reside on the grounds of the former Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. /…/ In these fields, prisoners toiled as slaves until succumbing to weakness. One of my grandmother’s earliest childhood recollections was the smell of burning human flesh. /…/ The area between the two crematoria – No. 4 and No. 5 – holds great significance for me; I frequently stroll there, contemplating my next artworks. This place exerts a therapeutic influence on me. Painting is my entire life. /…/ I produce an average of 100 paintings a year, dedicating 8 to 14 hours a day, every day,” he states in his portfolio from 2021.
The essence of the Song of Songs exhibition lies in the shared exploration by Raul Meel and Krzysztof Piętka, despite their differences in age, recognition, and artistic approach, into the coexistence and interweaving of good and evil, beauty and ugliness, horror and sublimity.