Jana Sterbak

About the Artist

Jana Sterbak was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1955. She came to Canada with her family in 1968. Her parents were part of the intellectual and cultural community that was increasingly active in Czechoslovakia in the years leading up to the Prague Spring, a brief period when the Czech leadership attempted to relax the restrictions of the Soviet system.  This reform movement was crushed by a Russian invasion in 1968.

Skepticism of authority and the use of humourous and critical allusions to communicate opinions are a national habit of everyday life and a characteristic of Czech culture. These attributes are evident among Czech writers such as Franz Kafka, whom Sterbak continued to read after she left her native land. The influence of Czech culture is evident in her work through the importance she gives to fantasy and freedom of the imagination.

In her essay for Sterbak’s States of Being exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, Ontario, Diana Nemiroff observed that, “..she (Sterbak) found that life in a political system that was the  ideologicalTo reflect those body of ideas reflecting the social needs and aspirations of an individual, a group, a class, or a culture; examples are ethnocentrism and class consciousness. A set of doctrines, beliefs, or ideals that form the basis of a political, economic, or other system which attempts to put experience of the world into some order. The result, particularly in Marxist thought, is a distortion of reality to maintain authority over it. Various applications of this sense of the word can be found in feminism and other types of critical activity, often very politically oriented. Others use the term with less political load, meaning one type of symbolic system among others, like art, religion, and science. (Artlex.com)  opposite of the Marxist-Leninist government of Czechoslovakia strengthened, if anything, her sense of  ironicUsing the opposite to express what is really meant or expected. Irony can also be something absurd or laughable that occurs when what happens and what might be expected to happen are opposites.  distance.” Nemiroff quotes Sterbak as saying, “It was amusing to watch the complete reversal of the values which were the foundation of my childhood.” (Nemiroff, 1991)

Nemiroff argues in her essay that Czechoslovakia (now split into the countries of the Czech Republic and Solvakia) and Canada are both examples of colonized identity – political in the case of Sterbak’s native country, and cultural and economic in the case of Canada. “Through this experience,” Nemiroff says, “Sterbak developed an acute sense of the conflict between dependency and self-determination that exists both on the personal level – in the difficulty we have in distinguishing between what we are and need and what we have learned to be and to desire – and on the political plane, where it is the identity of nations that is at issue.” (Nemiroff, 1991)

Sterbak studied at the Vancouver School of Art (now the Emily Carr University of Art and Design) in 1973-74 and graduated from Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec in 1977 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. She also studied at the University of Toronto from 1980 to 1982. Sterbak began exhibiting her works and writing for journals in 1979, and has exhibited extensively in Canada and abroad.


Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning