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The Sybilla Award for the exhibition “Face to Face. Art in Auschwitz”


The exhibition “Face to Face. Art in Auschwitz” - a unique project of the National Museum in Cracow in collaboration with the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum prepared for the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Auschwitz Museum - received the Sybilla 2017 in the historical and archaeological exhibitions category. Museum event of the year. The exhibition presented last year in the Cracow Szołayski tenement was the first of such extensive presentation of original works made in the camp by former prisoners of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp.


Photo: Zbigniew Prokop
Photo: Zbigniew...

- It is a great distinction, given that the competition was really strong - Agnieszka Sieradzka, the exhibition curator and art historian with the Auschwitz Museum said, after the announcement of the competition results. Thanking all persons who participated in the preparation of the exhibition, she emphasised: - Thanks to you all, camp art, which until now relatively unknown and appreciated has finally assumed its rightful place in history and art - Sieradzka stressed.

During the opening of the exhibition in July 2017, Andrzej Betlej the director of the National Museum in Cracow said: - At the opening of an exhibition, we always say that it is a special moment. In this case, however, the word special assumes extraordinary significance. We are opening a difficult exhibition that has been accompanied by difficulties from the very beginning. The decision to create the exhibition was taken almost instantly. The proposal of director Cywiński was received with great enthusiasm, and I decided that the National Museum must prepare this exhibition. Many people said that the National Museum is not a martyrdom museum. However, the function of a museum is to restore memory. The subject of the exhibition is difficult, but it helps one to pause, look in the faces of the people portrayed, take a face to face look at the past reality and preserve the past in our memory.

- Art is a powerful medium of extreme emotion, hope, hopelessness, apathy, faith, the strength of spirit, fear, dreams or nostalgia - emphasised the director of the Auschwitz Museum Piotr M. A. Cywiński, PhD. - We have in our collections about 2,000 works made by prisoners in the camp, and over 2,000 post-war works by prisoners, which is a unique collection on a global scale. It was presented so extensively for the first time at this exhibition, thus assuming a new significance. We are, therefore, delighted that the exhibition has been so well-received and appreciated. I also say this in the context of our plans, in which we would ultimately like to create a permanent exhibition of camp and prison art in the building of the historic camp kitchen - director Cywiński stressed.

Art created in the horrible reality of Auschwitz is a unique document of the camp’s world and a testimony to the artists’ struggles for their humanity. Many representatives of the Polish intelligentsia, perceived by the German authorities as particularly dangerous were imprisoned behind the gates of Auschwitz for fear they may become involved among others, in activities of the resistance movement or provide spiritual and moral support in the harsh realities of the occupation. Among them was a large group of professional visual artists. At a later period, artists from other nationalities were also sent to KL Auschwitz, mostly Jews. The latter had significantly less possibility to express themselves artistically because the camp authorities treated Jewish prisoners ruthlessly. Regardless, some of them still created in the camp.

Nearly 200 original works most of which were created illegally, were presented at the exhibition “Face to Face. Art in Auschwitz”. For the first time, the original, unique drawings of the so-called Sketchbook from Auschwitz was displayed outside the Memorial. The exhibition also included the original inscription “Arbeit macht frei” above the entrance gate of the Auschwitz I camp - a unique example of "handicraft" by prisoners of the locksmith commando and one of the most important symbols of the cruel cynicism of the concentration camp world. Portraits of Auschwitz camp prisoners were also an essential element of the exhibition. They portray a man struggling with unimaginable cruelty in defence of the remnants of his dignity. This man subjected to such humiliation and torture still has feelings. We come in contact with him face to face.

Works made at the order of the camp authorities were presented separately, including propaganda, instructional drawings, plans for the expansion of the camp, as well as works made in the camp’s Lagermuseum, where artists were forced to create for private use of the SS men. His story also explains how the prisoners had access to materials that they could later use to create illegal works.
The Minister of Culture and National Heritage, Prof. Piotr Gliński assumed honorary patronage over the exhibition. The exhibition was accompanied by the Polish-English catalogue available at the Auschwitz Museum’s online bookshop.

Curator of the exhibition Agnieszka Sieradzka, Auschwitz Museum
Co-curator: Michał Dziewulski, National Museum in Cracow
Coordinator: Alicja Wójcik, Auschwitz Muzeum and Katarzyna Maniak, National Museum in Cracow
Arrangement: Magdalena Bujak, National Museum in Cracow