Marlene Dumas

The Third World War

‘Don’t mention the war’
John Cleese

The Third World War

Or, how ‘Post-War art’ has become a contradiction in terms.
We have to stop the Second World War so we can stop the Third World War.

Or, how the language of the Second World War blocks the vision on the present war(s).

The Middle East conflict will not be solved if one keeps on calling it a choice of being either ‘for’ or ‘against’ Jews. Supporting Palestinian rights is not the same as claiming that the Holocast did not exist. Being against the policy of the Israeli government and the occupation does not make one an anti-semite. In Michael Sorkin’s book Against the Wall [2],both Israeli and Palestinian voices contribute to the critique of the ‘security fence’ from a variety of perspectives, architectual, legal, historical and philosophical.

The Jewish Susan Sontag said in her speech on Courage and Resistance [3] ‘Here is what I believe to be a truthful description of a state of affairs that has taken me many years of uncertainty, ignorance and anguish to acknowledge … The decision of successive Israeli governements to retain control over the West Bank and Gaza, thereby denying their Palestinian neighbors a state of their own, is a catastrophe – moral, human and political – for both peoples.’

The Jewish Noam Chomsky in a discussion at Fort Collins in 1990 [4], replied to those believing that the Palestinians aren’t really suffering but are people that advertise their misery and that they are only doing it for the cameras because they are trying to discredit the Jews: ‘They do exactly the same thing when there are no cameras.’

There are cultural differences in expressing emotions and the Western world tends to be less explicit. I think of our cold funerals where women with fancy dark glasses try not to cry, as if it was in bad taste to spoil their make-up. A Jewish Dutch student [5] dismissed the photographs of dead children in Gaza as Islamic propaganda and he called it, Pallywood.

From the horrors of reality to the fiction of images. One of the Jewish actors in the movie Inglourious Basterds by Quentin Tarantino [6] called the movie ‘kosher porn’.. Thinking of ‘revenge’ as a legitimate dream, the film reminded me of the catalogue of the show Mirroring Evil; Nazi Imagery in Recent Art at the Jewish Museum in New York [7]. Focussing on the perpertrators rather than the victims, it included Piotr Uklański’s work Untitled (The Nazis) [8], compiled of 116 photographs of movie stars in Nazi roles. Without the clarifying text the possibility of attracting Neo-Nazi’s is always present.

Which reminds me of the fact that every image needs a text to protect it.

And every text needs someone to de-code it.


  1. John Cleese in The Germans, Fawlty Towers, 1975
  2. Michael Sorkin (ed), Against the Wall. Israel’s Barrier to Peace, 2005.
  3. Susan Sontag held her speech Of Courage and Resistance, at the Rothko Chapel in Houston, March 30, 2003.
  4. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky, Schoeffel and R.Mitchell (ed), 2002.
  5. De Volkskrant, 17 January 2009.
  6. Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino, 2009
  7. Mirroring Evil; Nazi Imagery in Recent Art, N.L. Kleebatt (ed), Jewish Museum New York, 2002.
  8. Piotr Uklański, Untitled (The Nazis), photographic series, 1998.

The Third World War. First published (in Dutch) in Metropolis M, 2009-2010, issue 6, p.17; and included in Marlene Dumas, Sweet Nothings. Notes and Texts, second edition (revised and expanded) Koenig Books London, 2014 [Translated version of ‘De Derde Wereldoorlog’]