People like decennial dates and, for some inexplicable reason, they give them special meaning. It is no different with the hundredth anniversary of Poland regaining its independence. This milestone anniversary certainly had a significant impact also on the Polish art world, as evidenced by the intensification of projects focusing on national identity and, generally speaking, socio-political discourse.
At the invitation of the Krakow art society, Otwarta Pracownia, which asked me to create an individual exhibition concerning the aforementioned subject, I decided to create a series of works aimed at finding a counterweight to various types of patriotic symbolism, which is more and more clearly associated and appropriated by extremely nationalistic circles. Based mainly on old photographs, I painted a series of paintings that, by referring to historical events, would also be an attempt to balance some of the tendencies and tensions that currently occur in Polish society.
One of the effects of the work is a series of herstoric portraits depicting women who, by their actions, played an important role in Polish independence aspirations. They are: Wanda Gertz, Olga Stawecka, Aleksandra Zagórska, Aleksandra Szczerbińska and many others.
Among the presented paintings there is also a thread related to the figure of Józef Bem, an eminent Polish general and a Muslim. His body was initially buried in 1850 in Aleppo, to be transferred seventy-seven years later to Tarnów, his home town. As it is not allowed to bury religious dissenters at Catholic cemeteries, the authorities decided to build a mausoleum with an erected tomb and of course – with the general’s body turned towards Mecca. However, the tomb was eventually placed in the middle of the park.
I also mentioned the figure of the Polish colonel of Jewish descent and the officer of the Polish Legions – Berek Joselewicz. Thanks to his appeal, a regiment was formed that took part in the Kościuszko Uprising. It was the first Jewish armed detachment since the ancient times. In addition to Joselewicz, the rabbi Dow Ber Meisels also appears among the works – a symbol of Polish-Jewish reconciliation and a common struggle against tsarist Russia.
On the basis of a not very successful eighteenth-century sketch, I also painted a portrait of Władysław Jabłonowski – the only dark-skinned general in the history of the Polish army, who, like the above-mentioned ones, distinguished himself in many important battles such as in the Battle of Szczekociny or defense of Saska Kępa.
General Jabłonowski died on Saint-Domingue fighting for Napoleon during the Haitian Revolution. Interestingly, along with him and hundreds of other Polish soldiers from the 113th demi-brigade of infantry, one of the most important symbols of Polishness – the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa – found its way to Haiti. This image was absorbed by the local culture and was incorporated into the pantheon of the deities of Voodoo religion as the goddess Erzulie – the guardian of mothers, lesbians and prostitutes – who takes revenge on everyone who harms women. In one hand she holds a female child, and a knife in the other. The sacrifice is usually made of strong cigarettes and rum.
There was also a narrative, specific to my creative works, from the borderline of science and mysticism. It is visible in a diptych consisting of a distorted portrait of the dead Józef Piłsudski and the image of his close co-participant in parapsychological experiments and a seer – Stefan Ossowiecki. Convinced of the psychic powers of his mind, Pitsudski decided that after death, his brain would be examined in order to discover these supernatural properties. The Marshal’s brain was located until the outbreak of World War II at the Polish Institute of Brain Research in Vilnius. Later, this preparation, along with all documents, has been lost and it is still missing.
The exhibition also features Neoslavic references to Stanisław Szukalski. Almost one hundred years after the birth of Stach from Warta, I came to the world exactly in the same town with only a few thousand inhabitants. Was it a coincidence?
fot. Paweł Baśnik