29. Ceroplastic exercises

Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko June 6th - October 11th 2020
It was a Sunday in July 1942 when German military policemen together with Polish policemen halted a group of twenty nine Romani men and women near Borzęcin Dolny in Lesser Poland region. The same day, three man, five women and over twenty children were executed by Germans and Poles in a nearby wood. The dead were thrown into a pit, dug at the place of the slaying and then buried there.

Seventy years later, in July 2011, at the Cygańskie Górki / Romani Hills – as the locals would call that site since the murder – a Romani sculptress, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas erected a monument carved in wood. In this way the previously non-memorialized site of (non)memory was marked in the rustic landscape, becoming one of the Lesser Poland sites of the Samudaripen – Romani Holocaust. The monument, the artist designed, consisted of a vertical slab on which a fragment of Papusza’s poem was inscribed as the epitaph: ‘There was no life for Gypsies in town / and in villages they killed, killed us. / What could they do? Gypsy women took their children to the woods / deep into the woods so that German dogs would not find them’. On the two sides of the epitaph plaque placed on the site of the genocide, there are figures of a Romani man and woman dying.

Four years later, in the spring 2016, perpetrators who have not been captured yet, damaged the monument. Once again Romani people were killed by Poles. The agony of the dying figures sculpted by the artist was broken by the axe blows of the torturers. This execution in effigie was complemented by an attempt to knock over the slab with the epitaph plaque, to which steel ropes were attached.

In July 2016 the artist recreated the monument in its original form and original site. She took the remains of the first memorial and of the axed Romani with her. They became the object and theme of her new sculptural series shown at the Chapel Gallery in the Centre of Polish Sculpture compound in Orońsko.

The exhibition consists of the wax moulds of the figures mutilated in 2016 and the remains of the damaged epitaph. The artist does not try to restore the original image of the monument or sculptures, as she did, when asked, in Borzęcin Dolny.  What interests her is not the renewed commemoration of the concrete crime of the summer 1942 that occurred during the Samudaripen, but rather the commemoration of the very fact of destroying the monument, which was a sort of a symbolic murder as well as a historical reconstruction of the original crime.

Thus the artist does not recombine the mutilated figures into a whole. Quite the opposite: she tends to the wounds, emphasizing their fragmentary character, fragility and precariousness of the remains. The material in which she moulded the remains is highly symbolic. Wax is a sculptural material ‘truer than the truth’ and since antiquity inseparably connected with veristic portrayal of the dead. Julius von Schlosser, representative of Viennese school of art history, argued the case in his classical book devoted to the European ceroplastics. At the same time, wax is a material strongly featuring in Romani culture, especially in the funeral and apotropaic practices; it was used for making magical sculptures presenting the corpse, devil and cross. The exhibition has been created specially for the neoclassicist space of the Orońsko chapel, built on the floor plan of the Greek prostyle; it assumes the form of an archeological museum as well as a wax lapidarium.

Wojciech Szymański


Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, visual artist and activist of Romani origin, is a graduate of the Faculty of Sculpture at the Jan Matejko Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow (2004). Her works have been presented at several dozen individual and group exhibitions, inter alia at the Romani Culture Museum in Brno 92012) and the Moravian Gallery in Brno (2017), participant of the Art Encounters Biennial in Timişoara (2019). Since 2011 she has been organizing an international artistic residency programme Jaw Dikh! in Czarna Góra, dedicated both to Romani and non-Romani artists. Awarded at the 42nd and 44th Biennials of Painting Bielska Jesień (2015, 2019), holder of a grant of the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage (2018). She is involved in many social and artistic projects counteracting exclusion, racial discrimination and xenophobia. She lives and works in Czarna Góra, Spis region.


More information on the exhibition can be found on the website of Centre of Polish Sculpture in Orońsko.