Critics’ Picks

Ceija Stojka, Untitled, 1995, acrylic on board, 27 3/8 x 39''.

Ceija Stojka, Untitled, 1995, acrylic on board, 27 3/8 x 39''.


Ceija Stojka

Malmö Konsthall
St Johannesgatan 7
January 30–May 23, 2021

Despite their vivid depictions of life and all its attributes—love, angst, curiosity, horror, and barbarism—Ceija Stojka’s paintings have a way of withdrawing from one’s gaze. The works seem to implode in their frame; on occasion, layers of black paint obliterate figures even as they constitute them. What remain are rectangular shells of floating content, anchored to an extraordinary biography: As a child of an Austrian-Romani family, Stojka was held at Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, and Bergen-Belsen, all before the age of twelve. It took fifty years for Stojka to take up the paintbrush.

Faces, numerals, and swastikas remain legible, while bodies melt into warped shapes and thin, viscous lines, adumbrating unfathomable violence from one camp to the next. Between the infrastructure of extermination and its prisoners, written commentaries appear: from a young Stojka imploring, “Mum, where is Ossi?” (Stoika’s brother who never left Auschwitz); to the mature admonition, “No excavations may ever take place at this site,” inscribed on the back of the undated landscape Auschwitz nachher.

If for Adorno, “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” Stoika’s paintings and drawings touch the limits of representation. In Z.B. [Zyklon B] Gaskammer am 02.08.1944 in Auschwitz. Die Endauflösung, 2006, a ray of light floats in the thick darkness inside the gas chamber, that paradigmatic site of unpicturable horror. Is it the same light that shines down on the field of sunflowers seen again and again in the latter part of the exhibition? In these works, a fragment of relief, or at least a little respite, blooms.