Simone Mangos offers a unique voice to the silent victims of thalidomide poisoning in ‘Things My Mother Never Told Me’, her latest exhibition at Dominik Mersch Gallery. With a poignant beauty that belies a tragic history, the series of ten oil paintings prompt a sad reflection on the subhuman treatment of people with deformities and disabilities, recalling over a century of objectification and humiliation in connection with medical and quasi-scientific photographic documentation.
Thalidomide, developed by the German pharmaceutical company Grunenthal, was widely used by pregnant women in the 1950s to combat morning sickness. Unknown to them was the fact that the breakthrough drug would be responsible for thousands of congenital birth defects, and many infant deaths. Mangos researched thalidomide in medical archives, finding photographs, journals, and even personal dialogue with survivors to form a bleak, disturbing portrait of intimidation. The series of portraits are based on medical photographs of the children who fell victim to thalidomide poisoning, and who between the years of 1957 and 1962 were subject to gross objectification by medical professionals. The children were stripped naked, prodded and poked; tantamount to scientific spectacles.
In a recent interview with the ABC, Mangos says she was alarmed by the treatment of the child victims in the photographs, who she says were presented in a manner not unlike criminals. “Not only are the photographs out of focus and flat, and crude and badly composed; but the child is held in a very forceful way or made to do something really strange, and I spent a lot of time trying to understand what have they done with that child,” she says. “What was confronting to me was the way in which they looked so abused and maltreated.” Figure 2 is reminiscent of a criminal mug-shot, indeed in the pseudo-scientific tradition of Cesare Lombroso’s criminal typology. Case 4 shows a child being brusquely pulled from all sides, stark naked, numbered and framed by curtains as if being forced onto a stage. In Case 5, the face is obscured by a black strip.
Australian born Mangos has lived and worked in Berlin since 1988, exhibiting widely around the world throughout her career of almost twenty years. Known for tackling contentious, misunderstood, or otherwise neglected issues in her substantial oeuvre, Simone’s previous exhibition of work entitled ‘The Ideology of Memory’ in 2007 involved an investigation of the ‘Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe’, observing the ways in which the legacy of the Holocaust has been acknowledged. The exhibition was the culmination of her PHD dissertation, undertaken at the College of Fine Arts, Sydney.
Known for her photographic, installation, and sculptural works, Simone Mangos has with this painted series brought a sad reality to the subject, the medium of oil imbuing the works with an historical gravity, and indeed a narrative quality. Confronting in its reality, the exhibition is an intensely personal journey to the dark side of human nature.
Dominik Mersch Gallery
July 14 to August 11, 2012
Case 47, 2012, oil on canvas, 150 x 100cm
Figure 2 (detail), 2012, oil on canvas, 150 x 100cm
Courtesy the artist and Dominik Mersch Gallery, Sydney