The Gifted Child
Leni Riefenstahl and the beyond

14 September – 14 October 2016
Alliance Française de Melbourne

Inez de Vega’s solo exhibition The Gifted Child: Leni Riefenstahl and the beyond took place across all three gallery spaces of the Alliance Française heritage-listed mansion in Saint Kilda. Inez presented 6 poster images, a video and a work of sound art. The exhibition was her response to the life and career of Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl.

Inez writes:

As a person with Jewish ancestry, the beauty of Riefenstahl’s art in contrast to her dark politics holds particular curiosity for me. Whilst I find that Leni’s genius with lighting, composition and her innovative use of camera angles sometimes takes my breath away, it causes me to wonder at what point is the artist’s politics so immoral that we are left with no choice but to dismiss her work as irreconcilably soiled? I become all tangled up inside my own logic trying to figure this out.

This exhibition grew out of the video (‘Olympia’, 2014) and the photographs (‘On Leni Riefenstahl’ Nos. 1 to 6, 2014-2015) that I made ‘colonising’ Leni’s films. Projecting her film stills onto the wall of my apartment, I had myself photographed performing with her images. In so doing, I began to feel that Leni was both a perpetrator and a victim for her art. On the one hand, she perpetrated the lie of the supremacy of the Aryan race and demonstrated an indifference to those being exterminated by the Nazis. However, she was also a victim of Hitler’s maniacal ideas through the time and place of her birth. After all, at some level, she was just like me: an artist trying to make a living and have my work recognised. For Leni, clearly a gifted artist, the prospect of fame and an unlimited budget must have been dizzying.

In ‘The Drama of the Gifted Child’, author and therapist Alice Miller writes about Hitler’s childhood living with an abusive and authoritarian father. Hitler was violated and then he murdered the Jews. Violence is cyclical – victims become perpetrators – and it usually begins in the home. The domestication of political violence is an important part of my work. The six poster images in the ‘On Leni Riefenstahl’ series were photographed for me by Catherine Evans in my own home — my fridge is clearly visible creeping into the frame in one of them. Despotic politicians and dangerous criminals who wreak havoc out in the world have invariably been violated, bullied and shamed while they were growing up.

Adolf Hitler and Leni Riefenstahl both profiteered from the politics of fear. While it would be a foolhardy artist who compares our current political, social and economic climate to Nazi Germany, there seems little doubt our 24-hour newscasters – who spew forth recent disasters and impending doom until they are shrill – are feeding into the hands of egomaniacal politicians and the multi-billionaire scions of corporate industry. Fear invokes us to believe in charismatic ‘solutions’. It also makes us physically and psychologically ill. As an antidote to all this fearmongering then, and simply because I needed it: my most recent work, Fear_Freedom_Ant’, made in 2016 is a meditation on the transcendence of suffering. 

On Leni Riefenstahl, Nos 16 (2014-2015)
Original photography: Catherine Evans for Inez de Vega
Photo documentation: Clare Rae 
Printed on thin, inexpensive paper (90 GSM) to resemble newspaper images — one of the propaganda tools of the Nazis — the six posters speak of violence and transcendence from violence. Installed in Gallery 1.

Olympia (2014)
Videography: Inez de Vega
Photo documentation: Clare Rae
A three-minute musical melodrama. Riefenstahl’s masterwork Olympia is projected on and around de Vega’s body as she performs her adaptation of Kurt Weil's Mac the Knife. Installed in the Basement Gallery.

Fear_Freedom_Ant (2016) 
Stories & narration: Inez de Vega
Music: Mendelssohn and Travis John
Photo documentation: Clare Rae
A trilogy of stories on suffering and the end of suffering. Installed behind the red curtain in Gallery 2.