Concentration camp ashes used in a new painting by artist Carl Michael van Hausswolff have led to an investigation. The artwork, currently on display at Sweden's Lund art gallery, has caused quite a stir and is even being labeled as an "unimaginable act" by the Majdanek camp museum in Poland.
"We are deeply shocked and outraged by the information that the painting allegedly was made with the ashes of Majdanek victims," the camp (now museum) said in an official statement. "This action is an artist provocation deserving only to be condemned."
For his part, von Hausswolff said that he took the ashes in 1989 during a visit to the former concentration camp. "I collected ashes from one of the crematoriums but didn't use it for the exhibit – the material was too emotionally charged with the cruelties that had taken place there," he posted on the Lund gallery's website.
"In 2010 I pulled out the jar of ashes and decided to 'do something' with it. I took out a few sheets of watercolor paper and decided to cover just a rectangular space with ashes mixed with water," he explained.
Yet that is exactly what is causing the uproar – not only the fact that the ashes were "collected" from a crematorium, thereby "disturbing the peace of the dead," according to a public police report filed by an anonymous person against von Hausswolff, but also desecrating human remains, the report added.
Salomon Schulman wrote a letter to his local newspaper expressing his outrage at the use of human remains to simply make art, the Jewish Press reported. Normally ashes are left where they are found, a reminder of the life and death of those now gone.
According to the Jewish Press, "approximately 360,000 people, over 60 percent of whom were Jews, died at Majdanek."
"When I stepped back and looked at the pictures," von Hausswolff continued on the website, "they 'spoke' to me: figures appeared… as if the ashes contained energy or memories or 'souls' from people… people tortured, tormented and murdered by other people in one of the most ruthless wars of the 20th century."
Police are conducting an official investigation into von Hausswolff's actions but have not said whether they will press charges.