Ceija Stojka
Ashamed
Exhibition for the 70. anniversary of the destruction of the Auschwitz Roma Camp
3. August 2014. - 31. August
Opening: 2. August 2014 at 15:00
The exhibition We Were Ashamed presents a subjective selection of artworks by the artist, Ceija Stojka who died last year. As a survivor of three concentration camps, the artist began painting in her mid-fifties. There are two cycles which define her body of work. Black and white ink drawings and comparably fewer oil paintings depict her memories from the concentration camps under the title Even Death is Afraid of Auschwitz. On the other hand, her oeuvre also presents a colourful world painted with expressive gestures: nature, landscapes, images of Roma wagons, dance and family – art that celebrates life and survival. The exhibition features works from both cycles, which are closely intertwined.

The ink drawing entitled We Were Ashamed portrays naked women prisoners from Ravensbrück being forced to stand naked in front of the SS. This shame, which the Nazis used as a means of torture and oppression, persisted long after the years of imprisonment and genocide. It took artists like Ceija Stojka to finally break the taboo of silence, which existed within the Roma community as a consequence of the shame and humiliation. This process in turn led to a newly discovered self-confidence; it was essential in empowering the Sinti and Roma to fight for recognition within a hostile environment that still denied the persecution of Roma during the Nazi era. The artistic work on the past became a political intervention in the present.

Ceija Stojka‘s art is a powerful avant-garde; it transformed her with perseverance and courage from being a passive victim of the Holocaust to an active political actor. From time to time, she faced her memories and generously shared them with us. These images are not only unique documents but also fascinating works of art that are invaluable to the history of Sinti and Roma. Ceija Stojka is an interface in between tradition and modernity: on the one hand, she was a guardian and facilitator of tradition; on the other hand, she was a pioneer in reinterpreting and breaking with conventions. She declared that she was aware of her responsibility as a survivor to be visible and to have the courage to speak up.

The works of the Bright Cycle cannot be understood as separate from the other works, in the same way as the art of Ceija Stojka should not be reduced to the Auschwitz cycle. The traumatic experiences resonate in the Bright Cycle, which is an attempt by the artist to rebuild – to recreate with her palette – a world which the Nazis wanted to take away from the Roma. Just like the Dark Works they are also a collective attempt towards the transgression of the victim; they suggest that even after the trauma – one which Roma will never forget – a positive (collective, Roma) (self-)image may still exist.