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Digging Deeper: Maia-Mari Sutnik and Memory Unearthed

March 21st, 2017

Photo courtesy of the AGO.

To celebrate International Women’s Month, we’re highlighting some amazing women of the AGO. Read our past entries on Julie Crooks and Katharine Lochnan. Today we highlight Maia-Mari Sutnik, Curator Emeritus.

Maia-Mari Sutnik, former Curator, Special Photography Projects, spent nearly 50 years at the AGO until she retired in 2015. She was named Curator Emerita, an honorary designation in recognition of distinguished service as well as academic and professional contributions and accomplishments during her more than 20-year career with the AGO.


Photo courtesy of the AGO.

Maia Sutnik going through slides. Photo courtesy of the AGO.

Photo courtesy of the AGO.

Joining the AGO in 1967, Maia was pivotal in shaping the AGO’s photography collection and building the Gallery’s reputation as a dynamic centre for photography – and at a time when photography was just starting to become recognized as an art form.

We asked Sophie Hackett, current Curator of Photography, about Maia’s remarkable accomplishments:

“Quite simply, there would be no photography collection at the AGO, if it weren’t for Maia. She felt that the medium mattered and that the AGO should be a place where visitors could appreciate the impact it has had, artistically, socially and historically. Maia has also actively participated in and fostered a community of artists, scholars and collectors in Toronto – she’s a key part of the reason the city has such a robust photography scene.”

Some highlights in Maia’s storied career include countless touring exhibitions and permanent collection rotations, like Michael Mitchell: Nightlife (1978), Linnaeus Tripe: Photographer of British India, 1854–1870 (1986), and Pop Photographica: Photography’s Objects in Everyday Life, 1852–1969 (2003). But her final exhibition as a curator with the AGO was perhaps her most impactful, as it continues to reverberate.

Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross opened on January 31, 2015, showcasing the work of PolishJewish photographer Henryk Ross (19101991), who worked from 19401944 as one of the official photographers of the Jewish ghetto in Lodz, Poland. While his official photographs were used for propaganda to showcase the efficiency of the ghetto, he continued to secretly (through cracks in doors or folds in his jacket) take photographs of the ghetto’s grim reality—starvation, disease, desperation, and fear. To protect his documentation, Ross buried his photographs and negatives when the ghetto was liquidated in 1944. A year later, he excavated them and found that half of his 6,000 negatives survived. About 200 of those images were put on view in Memory Unearthed.

Moe and Krysia Rosenstein certainly didn’t expect to see Krysia’s parents, Tania Stopnicki (née Biderman) and Jakob Stopnicki, in the exhibition’s photos—they didn’t even have a photo of Tania themselves. After making this discovery, Maia worked with the Rosensteins to ensure they received a print of the image of Tania and Jakob. Krysia and her step-brother Daniel Stopnicki will also be at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, when the exhibition opens there on March 21.

Krysia Rosenstein at Memory Unearthed. Photo courtesy of the AGO.

Mr. and Mrs. Rosenstein with Maia Sutnik. Photo courtesy of the AGO.

Henryk’s Ross’s photos of the Lodz Ghetto continue to generate interest, having recently been written about in The Washington Post and The New York Times, and the photos can always be accessed through the AGO’s online archive.

Maia continues to be closely engaged with the AGO as a friend of the Gallery and advocate for great photography, and her work will inspire generations to come.

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Memory Unearthed Supporters:

Lead Supporter
The Cyril & Dorothy, Joel & Jill Reitman Family Foundation

The AGO gratefully acknowledges the generous support of the community of donors who came together to support this exhibition. For a full list of supporters, please visit the exhibition page Memory Unearthed: The Lodz Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross.

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