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Straw added to a painting of Shulamite suggests Margarete's golden tresses, while black lines or tangled areas of black paint in Margarete imply the silent, erased presence of Shulamite.For Kiefer, Germany had maimed itself by the Holocaust.Influenced by Beuys, he saw art as a healing, spiritual process, and adopted myth and metaphor to investigate the "recent terror of history".This impetus for examining the Nazi era may have partly derived from the 1960s spirit of revolt against the legacy of previous generations.Tendrils of straw curl upwards like smoke from death-camp chimneys, ending in candle-like flames. For this flourishing crop might imply resurrection, yet the soil from which it grows is charred, while the tangles of black paint evoke the shorn piles of hair found at Auschwitz.

Having exploited the metaphoric resonances of lead and sand, Kiefer first used straw in the early Eighties.Two figures are contrasted in the poem and act as the central metaphor: Margarete, with her cascade of blonde Aryan hair, and Shulamite, a Jewish woman whose black hair denotes her Semitic origins, but which is also ashen from burning.The theme of Celan's poem has been a preoccupation of the German artist Anselm Kiefer, for whom Margarete and Shulamite have become the metaphoric protagonists in a series of paintings, of which Margarete (1981) is the concluding work.The Romanian poet Paul Celan was the only member of his family to survive incarceration in a concentration camp during the Holocaust, but committed suicide in 1970, at the age of 49, after producing a body of work that included the searingly painful poem, "Death Fugue".In it he talks of the inhabitants of the camp drinking black milk and digging graves in the sky.

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