Niepodległe: Women, Independence and National Discourse
The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw invites visitors to a vernissage of the exhibition "Niepodległe: Women, Independence and National Discourse".
The exhibition "Niepodległe: Women, Independence and National Discourse" examines the role played by women in 20th-century narratives of national liberation. Taking the centenary of the revival of Polish independence as its starting point, the exhibition looks at pivotal moments in history and at various liberation movements: beginning with the year 1918, through 1945 – when the political discourse of independence expanded to include the decolonization of the global South – all the way up to 1989, when the fall of Communism ushered in a new era of globalization. The show reveals the gendered character of historical narratives by showing how women have been overlooked in the national narratives in various times and places.
The title of the exhibition postulates an urgent shift away from the considerations of symbolic womanhood manifested in allegorical representations of a nation, as in the metonymic expression niepodległa ("independence itself," referring both to the country, which is a feminine noun in Polish, and a woman who is independent). It looks instead at actual women who played parts in liberation movements, along with what women's presence – or, too often, their absence – may say about the condition of a country, a nation or, more broadly, contemporary culture in general. Hence the "niepodległe" (the plural form designating women of independence) of the title, referring at once to a collective that has been ignored in the telling of history while underlining the political agency of women independent from confines set by the dominant culture. The works of the twenty-eight artists in the exhibition, both female and male, undermine the masculine gaze and patriarchal order of the historical narratives, striving to shape a more diverse representation of women and the way they are depicted in history.
One of the central themes of the exhibition is the backlash against and policing of women’s sexuality within patriarchal society. In the works of Goshka Macuga, Frida Orupabo, Tony Cokes and Zbigniew Libera, this returns with diabolical strength in the guise of madwomen, monster babies and uncontrollable fury undermining and threatening the social order. In Libera’s "Death of the Patriot" (2016), the fear of female sexuality takes the form of castration anxiety. The artist, calling upon the Romantic-era legend of the death of Polish insurrection leader Emilia Plater, turns the female hero into a group of Furies out of Greek mythology, savaging the body of a young soldier.
The selective nature of historical narrative is an aspect underlined by the exhibition’s architecture, conceived by the Berlin-based architect Johanna Meyer-Grohbruegge. It was inspired by the book "Tree of Codes" (2010) by Jonathan Safran Foer, an American author of Eastern European–Jewish descent, which attempts a new reading of Bruno Schulz’s classic "The Street of Crocodiles". By cutting and erasing entire phrases and sentences from Schulz’s book, Safran Foer makes it so that the pages, overlapping along with the author’s edits, make up a new visual whole, while the text takes on an entirely different narrative. The narrative thread holding "Niepodległe: Women, Independence and National Discourse" together works in a similar way, with the exhibited works coming together as a palimpsest, a collage of diverse images and stories. Considered from this perspective, the exhibition's architecture turns the whole into a text of sorts, indicating missing links and blanks scattered throughout women's history, as it waits for those gaps to be filled in at last.
Anna Baumgart, Bownik, Gloria Camiruaga, Filipa César, Kudzanai Chiurai, Ewa Ciepielewska, Tony Cokes, Katarzyna Górna, Marlene Dumas, Eulàlia Grau, Zuzanna Hertzberg, Lubaina Himid, Sanja Iveković, Zuzanna Janin, Mathieu Klebeye Abonnenc, Zbigniew Libera, Goshka Macuga, Anna Niesterowicz, Thenjiwe Niki Nkosi, Colette Omogbai, Witek Orski, Frida Orupabo, Aleksandra Polisiewicz, Jadwiga Sawicka, Catarina Simão, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Adejoke Tugbiyele, Kemang Wa Lehulere, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa