I like art a whole lot. And I love living in a country where people can create any kind of artwork they want without fear of being thrown in prison or killed. I’m guessing Nina Maria Kleivan, a Danish-Norwegian photographer, feels the same way. Eleven years ago, Kleivan created a series of photos of her infant daughter dressed as the world’s cruelest dictators, like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Idi Amin, Benito Mussolini and Saddam Hussein.
It begs the question: why, oh why, would a mother dress her baby up like Hitler?The idea for her controversial photo series, called “Potency,” came to Kleivan during six months of hospitalization and bed rest. After giving birth to her second child, Faustina, she experienced severe pelvic pain; while she recuperated, she began sewing tiny dictator costumes for her infant daughter and photographing her. In total, she photographed her little daughter, Faustina, as Hitler, Stalin, Amin, Mussolini, Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, Chairman Mao, Augusto Pinochet, and Slobodan Milosevic. In the 11 years since she completed the series, it has exhibited in Denmark, Sweden, Italy and Germany. See the photos here.
Her intention, Kleivan said, was to show how we all are born innocent. “We all have evil within us,” she told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. “It calls for reflection. Even though comical, you’re not supposed to only laugh at these pictures. You need to contemplate them, ponder where this evil comes from.”
That hasn’t stopped a lot of people from calling Kleivan’s work “sick,” “irresponsible,” even “child abuse.” But the way I see it, it’s unfortunate that most people will have a knee-jerk reaction to photographs instead of having philosophical considerations about the nature of innocence and evil. (Surprisingly, Kleivan said the baby dressed as Hitler provokes more negative responses than any of the other photos. Perhaps because he is the most distinctive-looking?) We have to consider the intention behind it. Simply because we live in a world today where people do things just for the sake of being offensive or shocking doesn’t mean we should roundly condemn anyone who does something we don’t like.
However, I’ve been talking about the photos over IM with my older sister, who is also an artist and a mother, and she too said Kleivan’s motherhood capabilities are “sick.” Faustina — who is 11 years old now — will go through life knowing there are pictures of her dressed like Hitler and Stalin, she explained. I don’t agree with my big sis — but then again, I’m not anyone’s mother yet. [Ha'aretz]