In the narrative world of Ewa Kuryluk, Anna Karenina writes about Simone Weil, Joseph Conrad meets Malcolm Lowry in Mexico, Goethe presides over a literary institute made up of Italo Svevo and Sextus Propertius while Djuna Barnes, dying of AIDS, visits Moses Maimonides in Japan.
An author, writer, essayist and art historian, Ewa Kuryluk was born in Cracow, Poland on May 5, 1946. Her father, Karol, born in 1910 in Zbaraz, Poland (now Ukraine), studied at the University of Lwów. His wife, Maria (née Miriam Kohany), born in Bielsko-Biala (Poland) in 1917, was a writer and translator. In circa 1944 the couple moved from Lwów to Lublin and later to Cracow and Warsaw. A son, Piotr, was born in 1950. Karol Kuryluk was the founder and editor-in-chief (1933–1939) of the magazine Sygnaly and served as minister of culture from 1956 to 1958. In 1959 he became ambassador to Austria, remaining in Vienna until 1964. He died in 1967. His widow died in 2001.
From 1964 to 1970 Ewa Kuryluk studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, where she received an M.F.A. in painting and an M.S. in art history. From 1970 to 1973 she studied art history at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, gaining a Ph.D. with a thesis on the origins, iconography and techniques of the grotesque, which was published in Poland and in the United States in 1987.
Her first publications (essays and poems) appeared in 1973, followed by works on fin de siècle Vienna (1974, based on her master’s thesis) and a book on Audrey Beardsley in 1976. In 1981 she settled in the United States, where she later received several fellowships from the New York Institute for the Humanities, at New York University (1982–1985), Princeton University (1984–1985) and the National Humanities Center in North Carolina (1988–1989). In 1981 she became one of the founding editors of the journal Zeszyty Literackie. From 1988 to 1992 she taught on the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research in New York and in 1992 she was a visiting professor at the University of California in San Diego.
Kuryluk continued to publish in the field of art history, most notably with her books Salomé and Judas in the Cave of Sex: The Grotesque: Origins, Iconography, Techniques (1987, based on her dissertation) and Veronica and Her Cloth: History, Symbolism, and Structure of a “True” Image (English edition 1991, Polish edition 1998). She currently lives in Paris and Poland.
Kuryluk’s artistic production has been recognized with installations exhibited in Europe and in the United States. More than twenty museums all over the world own works of art created by her. Her installation in Boston’s Helen Shlien Gallery in 1982 was voted best exhibit of the year (Boston Globe Award). A book, Fabric of Memory: Ewa Kuryluk Cloth Works 1978–1987 appeared in 1987. Her two volumes of poetry, Contour (1979) and Miss Anima (1984), were published in Poland, while two of her four novels, Century 2001 and Grand Hotel Oriental, appeared in the United States in 1992 and 1997 respectively. She has been honored with many awards, including those from the Fund for Free Expression (New York, 1985) and the Polish Culture Foundation (1994).
In her artistic work Kuryluk merges different media and aesthetic vernacular and transgresses the established borders between essay and narrative and even between drawing and writing, creating installations in which the written word appears as yet another form of the drawing, not competing with the abstract line but complementing it. In her novels, most notably in Century 2001, borders between different cultural realms and eras become blurred to give way to postmodern tableaux in which historical figures from vastly different backgrounds suddenly communicate with each other. These postmodern arrangements are interspersed with references to historical events that allude to Jewish history also, though without displaying any overriding concern with the Jewish people. A true cosmopolitan, Kuryluk mediates between cultures and periods to create a view of history that goes beyond a mere review of positions surpassed and left behind to suggest a never-ending stream of consciousness in which every cultural utterance is eventually met with a response.
Wieden’ska apokalipsa. Eseje o sztuce i literaturze wieden’skiej oko? o 1900. Cracow: 1974; Salome albo o rozkoszy. O grotesce w twórczos’ci Aubreya Beardsleya. Cracow: 1976; Hiperrealizm—Nowy Realizm. Warsaw: 1979; Kontur. Wiersze z lat 1972–1975. Cracow: 1979; Podróz do granic sztuki. Eseje z lat 1975–1979. Cracow: 1982; Pani Anima. Wiersze z lat 1975–1979. Cracow: 1984; Salome and Judas in the Cave of Sex. The Grotesque: Origins, Iconography, Techniques (Evanston, IL: 1987; Veronica and Her Cloth: History, Symbolism, and Structure of a “True” Image. Oxford/Cambridge: 1991; Century 21. Dalkey: 1992.