We are privileged to host this online exhibition of work by the artist Monika Krajewska. They are drawn from her extraordinary cycle of papercuts called “Burning,” a commemoration of the physical destruction of the Shoah.
“Burning” is my requiem for the synagogues and ceremonial objects destroyed together with the communities that created and cherished them. If even synagogues and cemeteries were doomed, what was the fate of Torah scrolls, candelabra, books and fragile papercuts? Only slivers survived.
Krajewska, who lives in Warsaw, is an accomplished photographer who was a pioneer in researching and documenting Jewish cemeteries and other built heritage in Poland. Her books of photographs of Jewish cemeteries, Time of Stones (1982) and A Tribe of Stones (1993), were ground-breaking in the field. Today, her photographs and papercuts are in synagogues, museums, and private collections. In her work she employs the symbolism and iconography found on gravestones and in synagogues in her contemporary interpretation of the traditional Jewish papercut form.
In my papercuts, I often draw on my favorite motifs from wooden synagogues, their imagery painted or chiselled in wood, on symbolic tombstone reliefs I had recorded as a photographer, mizrah plaques for the eastern wall, as well as other Jewish texts and symbols.
In this series, the meticulously cut pieces were later torn, stained, burnt. I thought about the artists, whose “holy work”, reflecting the world shaped by the Torah, rabbinical lore and Jewish folk tradition, was doomed for destruction.
The papercuts entitled “From the Cinders” and “From the Ashes” were inspired by a real-life story:
S. An-ski, the writer, social activist and ethnographer, was visiting Galician shtetlach ravaged during World War I, as an emissary of Jewish Relief organizations. In the town of Dębica, in a damaged synagogue, he found a fragment of the Ten Commandments on which only the words “…Kill” and “…Commit Adultery” remained.
He kept this memento of devastation till the end of his life.
Papercuts by Monika Krajewska (2003-2020)
April 19, 2020
Burning. This is the gate of the Lord, 2015
Text: The upper arc: “How awesome is this place!” (Gen. 28:17), in the lower arc: “This is the gate of the Lord; the righteous shall enter through it. (Psalm 118:20), the one below says: “Like birds hovering overhead, the Lord Almighty will shield Jerusalem (Isa. 31:5).”
The crowns illustrate a verse from the Ethics of the Fathers: “There are three crowns–the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood and the crown of sovereignty–but the crown of good name surmounts them all”, signed with acronyms.
Burning. Poplar with Seven Branches, 2005
Inspired by the poem “Completion of a Rite,” by Jerzy Ficowski: The poplar with seven branches/ has been blown down by the wind/ the felled sparks of the leaves/ are going out (translated by Keith Bosley with Krystyna Wandycz).
Paper cut-out, with the artist’s photo from the cemetery in Tykocin (Tiktin)
Burning III – Menorah
Burning II – Torah, 2003
Burning I – Mizrah, 2003
Text: “Mizrah”, in the arc “On this side, the spirit of life”, on the flower pots: “The Tree of Life.”
Burning X – Don’t, 2015
Text in smoke: “Do not kill. Don’t. Don’t.”
Burning IX – Covenant Forever, 2015
Text: The Ten Commandments; in flames: “Do not kill. Don’t. Don’t.”
Author’s photographs of a tombstone, ink, tempera
Burning XI – Guardians of the Covenant, 2015
Text: “This is the gate of the Lord (Psalm 118).”
Burning IV – Tree of Life, 2005
Text: “Tree of Life”.
Burning XIII – Save us, 2015
Burning XII – Shield us from sword and fire, 2015
Text: “Shield us from foe, plague, sword, famine and anguish”, from the Hashkiveinu prayer.
Burning V – Shema Israel, 2005
Text: “Hear, O Israel” – beginning of the most important prayer.
Four animals from the Ethics of the Fathers: “Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, fleeting as a deer and mighty as a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven. (Pirkei Avoth, 5:20).”
Burning VII – Observe, 2015
Burning XIV – Lights and flames, 2015
Burning VI – Shabbat, 2015
Text on the hands (all three previous papercuts): “If I protect the Shabbat, God will protect me”, in the flames: “this is everlasting covenant between me and you” (from a Shabbat hymn). Underneath the candle holders: “Observe” and “remember” (from the Torah), the first letters of these words in flames.
Burning VIII – Without End, 2015
Text: “And rebuild Jerusalem the holy city speedily in our days” (from a prayer) and “Leviathan and Shor Habor” – mythical beasts and messianic symbols.
“From the Cinders”, 2020
“From the Ashes”, 2020
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Monika Krajewska lives in Warsaw. She is the author of two ground-breaking books of photographs of Jewish cemeteries, Time of Stones (1982) and A Tribe of Stones (1993). She conducts workshops and lectures presenting Jewish tradition through art at the Centre for Yiddish Culture in Warsaw, and at Jewish culture festivals. In her papercuts, she combines traditional Jewish sources with her own artistic ideas, and introduces her own techniques. Her photographs and papercuts are in synagogues, museums and private collections.