Painting with the dead: Holocaust victims’ ashes used in Swede’s painting
2012-12-06 0:00


It may be one of the most controversial artworks ever created. A Swedish artist has unveiled a painting he made using the ashes of Holocaust victims.

The painting has been displayed in a Swedish art gallery. Artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff claims in a statement quoted on the Lund gallery’s website that he’d collected "some ashes from cremation ovens" during a visit to the Majdanek Nazi death camp in Poland in 1989, BBC reports.

The artist kept the ashes for years before deciding to mix it with water and create an artwork that would remind viewers of the horrors of genocide – "as if the ash contained energies or memories or ’souls’ from people… people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 20th Century’s most ruthless wars." Hausswolff said the ashes were used to paint a series of grey strokes in the painting.

Officials from Majdanek, which today is a museum, believe there’s no way the artist could have come to possess the ashes legally. They expect local officials to establish whether the ashes of the genocide victims had been stolen and defaced. The artist’s alleged theft was dubbed an "unimaginably barbaric act," and his artwork has been condemned as a result.

One of the leaders of Sweden’s Jewish community, Salomon Schulman, told Swedish television that the artwork was "repulsive in the extreme," The Local website reports.

Soviet forces discovered Majdanek in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1944. About 80,000 people, most of them Jews, were murdered there.

Article from:

Holocaust ash painter reported to the police -

A member of the public has now reported him to the police for breaking the Swedish law that protects the peace of the dead (brott mot griftesfriden).

The piece in question is being shown at a gallery in Lund.

In the text alongside the work, artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff explained that he collected the ashes from a concentration camp crematorium in Majdenak, Poland.

Years later, he mixed the stolen ashes with water and used the result as paint on acrylic paper.

The work has sparked a range of reactions from critics, with many upset that von Hausswolff would use remains from Holocaust victims in his art.

"You shouldn’t use remains as souvenirs," art critic Tor Billgren told The Local.

Billgren’s main objection is related to disturbing the peace of the dead (brott mot griftesfriden), rather than the specific oeuvre’s link to the Holocaust.

Author and translator Salomon Schulman, however, reacted with more virulence.

"It is repulsive in the extreme," he told Sveriges Television (SVT).

In a stinging critique published in the local Sydsvenskan newspaper, Schulman also likened the work to a fascination with necrophilia and questioned whether it should be called art.

"Who knows, some of the ashes might come from some of my relatives?" he wrote, adding that he refused to see the work for himself.

Billgren expressed considerable respect for the rest of the exhibition at Lund’s Martin Bryder Gallery.

"When von Hausswolff work isn’t muddied by naivety he offers exciting and alternative strategies to deal with and remember the horrors of the past," Billgren wrote in his review of the show.

The gallery owner, Martin Bryder, has said it was never his intention to hurt anyone’s feelings.

"This wasn’t meant to open old wounds, rather it was meant to heal them," Bryder told SVT.

Von Hausswolff is a well-respected artist, once referred to as both "dour and funny" by the New York Times, and has represented Sweden at the Venice Biennale.

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