Ceija Stojka, photographed in 1995 by Christa Schnepf
Ceija Stojka, photographed in 1995 by Christa Schnepf
MAY 24, 2023 – SEPTEMBER 25, 2023, daily from 10am – 6pm
Austrian Cultural Forum New York
11 East 52nd Street, New York
The Austrian Cultural Forum New York (ACFNY) is honored to present What Should I be Afraid of? Roma Artist Ceija Stojka, an exhibition curated by Dr. Lorely French, Carina Kurta and Dr. Stephanie Buhmann in collaboration with the Ceija Stojka International Association.
Comprised of ninety paintings and drawings culled from collections in Europe and the United States, the installation celebrates the extraordinary art and life of Romni artist, writer, activist, and educator Ceija Stojka, survivor of Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. A monograph will be published on the occasion of this exhibition.
Born to a traveling horse trading family of the Lovara Romani group in Austria in 1933, Stojka first began to write down her recollections in the mid-1980s when she was fifty-six years old. Her memoir Wir leben im Verborgenen: Aufzeichnungen einer Romni zwischen den Welten (We Live in Secrecy: Notes of a Romani Woman between Worlds), which was released in 1988, distinguished her as a leading advocate for remembering the Porajmos (Devouring), the Romani Holocaust. The exhibition title, What Should I be Afraid of?, cites one of Stojka’s poems, in which she describes how her personal experience of the Porajmos resulted in her fearless and passionate embrace of life going forward. 
In the 1980s, Stojka also began to paint her so-called memory pictures, ultimately creating a body of over 1000 works of art. What Should I be Afraid of? Roma Artist Ceija Stojka features a selection of the artist’s extensive collection of paintings and drawings, whose themes range from idyllic pre-war family scenes to the horrors witnessed and suffered under the Nazi regime. For example, whereas the vast fields of flowers she viewed as a child while traveling in the horse-drawn wooden wagons with her family through Austria entice viewers into their colorful glory, the grim black-and-white drawings of the horrendous daily life she faced as a young girl in the camps leave behind lingering haunting images. It is through this faceted view of Roma life and the fate that hundreds of thousands of Roma suffered in Europe during the first half of the 20th century that Stojka’s oeuvre manifests itself as a most powerful warning against hate and intolerance of all kinds and a plea for remembrance.
While opening on Ceija Stojka’s exact birthday, the exhibition at the ACFNY celebrates four anniversaries. 2023 marks the 90th year of Stojka’s birth and the 10th year of her passing. It further celebrates the 30th Anniversary since Roma were recognized as an official ethnic group in Austria (1993) after years of activism during which Ceija Stojka stood together with other Austrian Roma to become part of the social majority. 2023 also commemorates 50 Years of Austria’s International Cultural Diplomacy (Austria Kultur International, 1973).
Running through mid-September 2023, What Should I be Afraid of? Roma Artist Ceija Stojka is accompanied by a diverse program of readings from Ceija Stojka’s poetry and memoirs, musical performances by Roma, and film screenings.
du hast angst vor der finsternis?(you are afraid of the darkness?)
ich sage dir, wo der weg menschenleer ist, (i tell you: wherever the way is devoid of people,)
brauchst du dich nicht zu fürchten. (you don’t need to be scared.)
ich habe keine angst.(i’m not afraid.)
meine angst ist in auschwitz geblieben (my fear stayed in auschwitz)
und in den lagern (and in the camps.)
auschwitz ist mein mantel, (auschwitz is my overcoat,)
bergen-belsen mein kleid (bergen-belsen my dress)
und ravensbrück mein unterhemd. (and ravensbrück my undershirt.)
wovor soll ich mich fürchten? (what should i be afraid of?)
Ceija Stojka, Wir leben im Verborgenen: Aufzeichnungen einer Romni zwischen den Welten. Ed. Karin Berger. Vienna: Picus, 2013. (Gedicht “Auschwitz ist mein Mantel”, S. 13).
The Memoirs of Ceija Stojka: Child Survivor of the Romani Holocaust. Trans. Lorely E. French. Rochester, N.Y.: Camden House, 2022. (Poem “Auschwitz Is My Overcoat”, p. 39).
Susanne Keppler-Schlesinger, PhD: Director of the Austrian Cultural Forum. She is an Austrian career diplomat and has been working in the field of multilateral and bilateral diplomacy for 30 years. Her previous assignments include positions in Vienna, Paris and New York. She also served as Dep. Director of the Vienna School for International Studies/Diplomatische Akademie Wien. She holds a PhD in Musicology, French language and literature from the University of Vienna and a diploma as a concert pianist from the Vienna Conservatory of Music. Susanne is a graduate of the Diplomatische Akademie Wien.
Lorely French, PhD.: Professor of German, who teaches German Studies and International Studies at Pacific University, Oregon. She has published extensively on Ceija Stojka and Romani Literatures, most notably as author of Roma Voices in the German-speaking World (Bloomsbury 2015), as a contributor to RomArchive, the digital archive of Romani cultures, and as co-editor of a special issue on Romani Literatures for Romani Studies (2020). In 2022, she published the first English-language translation of the memoirs of Ceija Stojka (Camden House). Together with Carina Kurta, she represents the Ceija Stojka International Association and is a board member of the Gypsy Lore Society.
Carina Kurta, MA: Art historian and museologist. Kurta has been working closely with the Stojka family for several years to coordinate events and exhibits surrounding Ceija Stojka’s art. As a liaison between researchers, curators, and museums, she represents the Ceija Stojka International Association, together with Lorely French. Kurta carried out a preservation project on Ceija Stojka’s handwritten work, notebooks, and diaries.
Stephanie Buhmann, PhD.: Head of Visual Art, Architecture & Design at the Austrian Cultural Forum New York. She has written extensively on visual art, and her essays have appeared in a variety of books, international art magazines, and newspapers. Besides curating dozens of exhibitions, she has published five books of interviews with female artists of different generations working in diverse media. Her latest monograph Frederick Kiesler: Galaxies was published in 2023 (The Green Box, Berlin).
Image Credits: Nathalie Schueller