Ania Bien

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Ania Bien (born 1946) is a Jewish-American photographer.[1] Born in Kraków, Poland, to Polish-Jewish parents, she moved to the United States in 1958, where she studied painting and cultural anthropology.[2] Since 1973 she has lived in Amsterdam.[3]


One of Ania's early projects, Hotel Polen, referred to the Hotel Polen fire (which became "part of Bien's wider theme of destruction"[4]) in Amsterdam, 1977, and established her reputation in Dutch art circles.[3] The collection of photographs illustrated a hotel before World War II, showcasing the relative luxury of middle-class travel in Europe, but objects in the photographs associated with the Holocaust indicate that this was a "doomed" way of life.[5] She fabricated 18 replicas of the hotel's menu stands, and used them to display the photographs. David Levi-Strauss wrote that Bien's art piece is a "polysemous work of absence, in which what happens between images is the most important."[6] The work was displayed at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1987 and at the Amsterdams Historisch Museum in 1988.[7]

Some of Bien's work is concerned with Franz Kafka; one of her photographs has her place her hand on a portrait of Kafka's, in response to a note he wrote in 1924 to Dora Diamant, "Place your hand on my forehead for a moment, so I can gain courage."[1] Her 1989 installation Past Perfect asked "what would have happened had [Kafka] not died in 1924, but instead had come as a refugee to America in the late '30s."[8] It gained her international recognition,[3] and was also shown in Jerusalem.[8]

Bien is interested in war, discrimination, and the plight of refugees.[3] She contributed photographs from an centre for asylum seekers in Haarlem to a 1994 book on refugee children in such centers in the Netherlands, Ontheemde kinderen.[9]

She has also exhibited at Portfolio Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland,[10] and the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam.[3][11]


  1. ^ a b Freriks, Kester (17 May 1991). "Het verschil tussen fotografie en theater; De hand op Kafka's voorhoofd". NRC Handelsblad (in Dutch). Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Levi-Strauss, David (2003). "A Second Gaze". In John Berger. Between the eyes: essays on photography and politics. Aperture. ISBN 978-1-931788-10-6. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Home: Ania Bien" (in Dutch). Joods Historisch Museum. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Cooper, Emmanuel (April–May 1995). "Rev. of Warworks: Women, Photography and the Iconography of War". Creative Camera. p. 41. 
  5. ^ Osborne, Peter (2000). Travelling light: photography, travel and visual culture. Manchester UP. p. 178. ISBN 978-0-7190-4401-4. 
  6. ^ Baird, Daniel (December 2003). "Between The Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics". Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved December 10, 2011. 
  7. ^ "Hotel Polen//Ania Bien". Smithsonian Institution Research Information System. Smithsonian Institution Libraries. Retrieved December 10, 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Levine, Angela (11 October 1991). "Photo-based art". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  9. ^ Haijtema, Arno (2 January 1995). "Fotografen portretteren jonge vluchtelingen in asielzoekerscentra: Kinderen in een niemandsland". de Volkskrant (in Dutch). Retrieved 12 December 2011. 
  10. ^ Bien, Ania (1992). I-D nationale. Edinburgh, Scotland: Portrait Gallery. ISBN 978-0-9520608-0-2. OCLC 30555690. 
  11. ^ Bien, Ania; Leo Divendal (1993). Home. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Joods Historisch Museum. ISBN 978-90-801562-1-0. OCLC 55990120.