Ner Ot: Candles in the Art of Samuel Bak


Ner Ot: Candles in the Art of Samuel Bak


Essay by Lawrence L. Langer

In the art of Samuel Bak, familiar objects fracture before our eyes, abandoning their traditional functions to become metaphors for a dissonant, broken world. Candles have a ceremonial history in all religions, especially in Judaism where their lighting accompanies holy days and offers a ritualistic remembrance of loved ones who have passed. Additionally, the Ner Tamid, or Eternal Light, perpetually burns in the synagogue to represent the constant presence of God.

In his enlightening essay, Lawrence L. Langer guides us through the ritual of remembering the Holocaust through Samuel Bak’s paintings, familiarizing the viewer with a past that may feel abstract to many of us. While Bak’s paintings provide an entry point into the reality of the Shoah that our modern consciousness struggles to confront, Langer’s words explicate the historical, religious, and cultural narratives that inform the artwork. As Langer turns our sight into insight, he unpacks the dense visual imagery of each work, verbalizes the inquiries both overt and covert, and provides the context that scaffolds our attempts to find answers.

Inhabitants of a surrealistic space, Bak’s candles are abused, damaged, melting, lifeless, and bathed in the somber afterglow of profound sorrow. The cylindrical candles morph into tree trunks, logs, chimneys, columns, missiles and other projectiles, exposing the frequent disorder at the heart of the supposed orderly progression of history. An icon of memory becomes a ruse, where the flames of remembrance mingle with the drifting smoke of extermination. Amidst the anguish of his paintings, however, Bak allows for the notion that life can rise anew from the ashes. If his visual universe is not saturated with emblems of hope, it certainly does not fall victim to despair, and there is an instinctive need to restore to the candle the memory of its sanctified role.

Published by Pucker Art Publications, Boston, MA, 2019

  • Distributed by Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, NY

  • Slip-cased hardcover book

  • ISBN: 978-1-879985-38-4

  • Price: $50.00

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