Monday, 29 February 2016

Inge Morath And Borders, by Arthur Miller

A fascination with the border came naturally to Inge Morath who was born in Graz, the frontier city of southern Austria facing the Southeast. Her mother's family had homes and property in Lower Styria, what is Slovenia today. A child of Germanic culture it might be said that a kind of border ran through Mathilda, Inge's mother, who had  a particular understanding of the Slavic people who bordered Austria.

For Inge the concept of the border between cultures and races was essential to the understanding of peoples. Raised under Nazism with its manic super nationalistic credo, resistence to the current tendency to characterize individuals according to their origins rather than as human persons was something to be resisted. It was not that she was blind to the impress of culture on individuals, however, quite the opposite - through travel and study and her mastery of languages she could not help but take culture and history into account in all her approaches to different people. What her historical perspective gave her was a profound respect for differences and for individuals and their cultures.

Inge of course could not help but understand that there are indeed good and retrograde cultural traits imbedded in national characteristics. With the end of World War II she could not wait to escape Germany and Austria and to find a way to live in France, which became her second birthplace. French culture, I think, was her favorite of all, but saying this I am instantly reminded of how she adored a certain spiritual stretch in the Russian mentality, the familial warmth of the Italian, the venerable self-security of the Chinese, the poetry and literature and painting of the Germans, the Spanish austerity and the breadth of the English literary embrace. In short, she was in actuality a citizen of the world, with a closer affinity to more aspects of world culture than anyone I have ever encountered.

In the idea of the border she seemed to have found the complexity of her own existence. The border is the end of something and also the beginning, the escape and the entry, the desire to forget and the need to remember. Inge was torn by these contradictory forces. She could bridle at the spineless obedience inherent in the militaristic side of Germany's culture, and a moment later defend Germany's art and poetry; in the end what she could not help rising to defend was human dignitiy and freedom, regardless of national context. As a photographer she worked alongside and had many close friends who were Jews, and indeed married one, but she could not forget what had moved her in Arab and Muslim culture and refused to demonize those people. Inge was a woman without demons.

Arthur Miller

- Miller, A. (2003) Inge Morath And Borders. Foreword. In: Strassegger, R. (ed.) Grenz.Räume. Inge Morath. Last Journey. Munic et al.: Prestel
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