An art gallery in Sweden is coming under fire for its decision to display a controversial painting — one that is purportedly made out of Holocaust victims’ ashes (yes, you read that correctly). Artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff apparently assembled the work using the remains from victims who perished at the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland.
The Martin Bryder Gallery, which plans to open an exhibition on Dec. 15 featuring the controversial work, is doubling down and claiming that there are no ethical conundrums with displaying the painting. In fact, owner Martin Bryder appeared on Sverige Radio, where he defending the decision as having “no moral problem or flaw.”
As for Von Hausswolff, he apparently collected the ashes 20 years ago, however there is not much information regarding how he acquired them. The Telegraph claims that he “took the ashes during a 1989 visit to Majdanek.” A translation from a description on the gallery’s web site seems to indicate that the artist nabbed the ashes directly from cremation ovens during his visit.
“[Years later] I took out the jar with ashes and decided to ‘do something’ with it. I took out a number of watercolor paper and decided to only cover a rectangular area of these sheets with ashes mixed with water,” a translation of the description reads. “The ash has followed me, always been there…as if the ash contains energies or memories or souls of people…people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the 19th century’s most ruthless wars.”
The museum at Majdanek is understandably outraged over the artwork and is speaking out against it, explicitly noting that staffers believe that the ashes were obtained illegally.
“We are deeply shocked and outraged by the information that the painting allegedly was made with the ashes of Majdanek victims,” a statement put out by the museum reads. “This action is an artistic provocation deserving only to be condemned.”
Furor has commenced following the gallery’s announcement. Salomon Shulman, considered a leader in Sweden’s Jewish community, called the act “revolting” and has spoken out against it fervently.
“Who knows. Maybe some of the ashes originated from my relatives,” he wrote to a local paper. “No one knows where they were deported: all my mother’s siblings and their children, and my grandparents.”
Around 79,000 lives were taken at the concentration camp, which operated from 1941 until 1944. The majority of those killed were Polish Jews, the Telegraph reports.