Rotem Bidas is a 27-year-old Israeli art student and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She visited Auschwitz six times. And each time, she took a little piece of the camp back home with her: small tin pots, a metal screw, a few shards of glass, even a sign warning visitors against removing any artifacts from the museum’s grounds. Now, these bits of found art are the centerpiece of Bidas’ controversial exhibition, her final project before graduating from Beit Berl College, one of Israel’s foremost art schools.
“I felt this is something I had to do,” Bidas told the Israeli news site Ynet. “Millions of people were murdered according to the moral laws of a certain country, under a certain regime. And if those are their laws, I can come up with my own laws. My statement is that people are those who make the laws, and that morality is something that changes from time to time and from culture to culture.”
Far from condemning Bidas’ actions, her professors applauded her vision. The renowned painter Michal Na’aman, who was Bidas’ advisor, said her student was not a thief who had desecrated a holy site but an uncompromising trailblazer. “Let’s say she didn’t steal, but rather took an artifact through which she could become a partner,” Na’aman said, not bothering to explain just whose partner Bides had become once she pilfered pieces of history. “It is neither cunning nor manipulative. She tries to wound the conventional system of representations… I believe she succeeds in making art have an irreproducible encounter with a past event that has been shrouded in many layers of words, symbols, and representations.”
There you have it. Next time you feel like swiping sacred stuff, remember: it’s cool if you say it’s art.