Werner Heldt

Meeting (Parade of the Zeros), 1933–1935

The crude crowds are deafening despite their silence: they are silent as charcoal pencil. This is not the Love Parade or some Fridays for Future demonstration. And nevertheless, or perhaps all the more, I am screamed at by whiteness, normativity. It is overpowering, it holds privilege – even the outcry and the condemnation directed at the crowd in this work of art. Even the body drawing these lines has permission to simply observe. Is that easy? Probably not. Is it intentional? I cannot say.

I move along the margins of the image. The façades of buildings, an enormous city square and throngs of people who, as they paper the walls of my perceptions, only do so less abstractly upon a closer look. The zeros emerge. I see black flags weaving like shark fins through the sea of human beings. I see banners that require no inscriptions because the message is plain. But what is Werner Heldt saying?

Zeros upon zeros – anything else ought not to exist in that era, or is unwanted. The binarity and banality just will not stop. Have they resumed? If I were there back then, I could not have scraped by as an invisible zero, would never have become one, and the same holds true today. Which of these zeros describes Heldt’s own privilege to be permitted or compelled to observe the viciousness? From which vantage point is the artist gazing upon this destructive scenario?

And so many, so many questions: Where would I be in this artwork? I go looking for my people. I search the image for non-normativity or for intersectional sociopolitical elements. Where are the multilayered ones, the resistant ones? Is it enough just to render the shock, the disgust, palpable in art? What comes next? What is hidden, transformatively, underneath? Where are Heldt’s deep sense of weight and his fear that his own position will be exposed, a state of mind that accompanied Heldt nearly his entire life? They are nowhere to be found. And nevertheless, I search for them with the greatest of longing.

One last glance at the procession. I am still searching for myself, startling myself continually, as I consider the perspective from which Werner Heldt is drawing. Is he on a roof, on a stage, in some hiding spot? Would that be my place too?


Guest Author:
Stefanie-Lahya Aukongo
Artist and poet
Pronoun: none, she/her

Further works from the project

Rolf von Bergmann

Untitled (Self-Portrait with Salomé), 1977


Tabea Blumenschein

Dixie Marine, 1995


Otto Dix

Eldorado, 1927


Rainer Fetting

Self as Gustaf Gründgens, 1974


Nan Goldin

Siobhan in my mirror, 1992


Hannah Höch

Til Brugman´s Portrait , 1927


Gertrude Sandmann

Gruppe IX, 1922


Herbert Tobias

Untitled (Self-Portrait), 1952


Klaus Vogelgesang

Hairy Underarm, 1971


Ming Wong

Kontakthope, 2010