AN INTRODUCTION to KINDERTOTENTANZ Series V & VI
Dr. David A. Haughton
I once served as a paediatric resident for a cancer ward of a major children’s hospital. There, doctors and parents pursued the hope of newer medicines, more aggressive modalities, combinations of treatments. When the children bled, grew feverish, or gasped for breath, I did what I could. Often, the attending doctors were unavailable, jostling in administrative meetings or presenting new research proposals. The mothers held their dying children, facing the reality of the diseases.
I began to paint. The anger and helplessness I felt compelled me to begin the Kindertotentanz, an ongoing series of works that express my ambivalence with modern medicine.
The title of my series melds the names of two Germanic works: totentanz and “Kindertotenleider”. At the time of the plague in medieval Europe, many artists used the theme of the totentanz for a series of paintings or engravings. Only Death leveled the tremendous inequalities of medieval society: all classes feared the plague. The “Kindertotenleider” were a personal expression of grief: Mahler composed these remembering the death of his sister and the anguish and grief of his parents.
Various images recur in the works: lizards, sperm, malignant beaky-birds, embryos, infants and, when I need relief from depression, the white-washed chapels and icons from my Greek heritage.