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Hans Feibusch (1898-1998) in St. Bonifatius

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Hans Feibusch wurde in Frankfurt am Main geboren, emigrierte aber nach England als seine Kunst von den Nazis als „entartet“ diffamiert wurde. Heute hängen seine Werke unter anderem in der Tate Britain, der National Portrait Gallery und im British Museum. Die fünf alttestamentlichen Tafeln aus dem Jahr 1973, die nun in St. Bonifatius zu sehen sind, waren ursprünglich für die Synagoge London West in Auftrag gegeben worden.

Fotos by Justin Piperger Photography (Ausschnitte)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

a very warm welcome to all of you, who have very kindly taken the time to join us tonight here at St. Bonifatius on this special occasion.

It doesn’t happen very often that the interior of a church is fundamentally changed. And there is generally good reason for that. A church – like any other place of worship – is home to the faithful, many of them regulars, who look for a space, which helps them to practice and reflect on their faith and their relationship with God. A church needs to be open to many, and yet it serves a very private, even intimate purpose at the same time.

That doesn’t mean that a church should simply be a spiritual safe space. On the contrary, faith is always in need of being challenged. Under the human condition it can never be anything but preliminary. Faith needs reflection, debate and a growing understanding. And it´s not only about words, for that matter. Architecture, music, sculptures, paintings, all art basically has the unique gift to either comfort or challenge us on quite different levels.

Unveiling Hans Feibusch tonight offers a great opportunity to enjoy his colourful and powerful paintings. Moreover, doing so in the religious context of a church will give them the chance to reconnect with liturgical services and people´s lives (as they originally did when commissioned by Rabbi Hugo Gryn and the West London Synagogue).  It´s important to note, that Feibusch´s paintings do not simply illustrate ancient stories from the past but address and explore issues everybody can relate to up to this day: such as faith (Moses), sacrifice (Abraham), redemption (Jacob) courage (David) and love (Ruth).

Feibusch himself recalls[1] that, at the age of 13 or 14, he got hold of a bible and read it like  a novel. It opened to him [I quote] “a world full of magnificent characters, who made quite an impression on me in dramatic shapes, colours and wonderfully harrowing events.” [unquote]. He was especially fascinated by themes of fatherly love (“Vaterliebende Themen”), and stories like the “Binding of Isaac” were on his mind all his life.

After his enforced emigration to England, which he initially regarded as a personal sacrifice, Feibusch depicted Isaac’s imminent slaughter in a drawing of 1933. It could not be more dramatic: Isaac, lying distorted on an altar of wood, totally at the mercy of Abraham, who has already raised his knife and is stopped by the angel at the last minute. Four decades later – have a look – the scene has changed entirely. Isaac is not a child anymore, but a grown-up man; father and son seem to be at peace, walking together in mutual support.

We do not need to speculate what kind of spiritual journey led to Feibusch’s radically different perceptions of the same biblical story. But he certainlyteaches us that these stories are suitable and lifelong companions whatever the circumstances.

I am sure that these paintings are going to have a great impact on visitors and parishioners alike. They will constantly inspire us and help us to grow in understanding. And we all have to thank Ben Uri Gallery for that.

David Glasser, whom I first met at the “Finchleystraße” exhibition at the German Embassy more than two years ago and who introduced me to Feibusch’s work.
Sarah MacDougall, who enabled the installation with all her expertise and energy in recent weeks. Thank you so much Sarah, it simply wouldn´t have happened without you. Thanks for seeing St Bonifatius fit to display an important part of your collection and to entrust us with it.

Furthermore I would like to thank the German Embassy for granting financial support, and Ralf Teepe in particular for his ongoing encouragement to go ahead with this project.

Before I hand over to Sarah and Ralf, and Leon Silver of course, who most kindly agreed to join us tonight on behalf of the Jewish community in the East End, I need you to let in on one more thing. At this point my parishioners will expect me to take a lot of holy water and give those paintings a proper blessing. It would just be the Catholic thing to do. No worries, Sarah. We will drop our favourite ritual for once and understand these wonderful paintings for what they truly are – a blessing themselves.

Thank you.

Pfr. Andreas Blum
London, den 17. Juni 2021

St Bonifatius – German Church – Whitechapel

[1] “… eine Welt von herrlichen Gestalten, die sich mir einprägten in dramatischen Formen, Farben und herrlichen erschütternden Geschehnissen.“ (Letter 6 Jan 1987)

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