As the protests and marches against the controversial changes to the abortion laws continue on throughout Poland, we take a look at the artwork that has been inspired by the people’s uprising.
WHAT’S GOING ON IN POLAND?
On the 22nd October 2020, Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the 1993 act permitting termination when the foetus is predicted to have an incurable illness or disability, was unconstitutional. When the new laws come into effect, terminations will only be permitted in case of rape, insest or if the mother’s health is at risk.
The backlash was quick and fierce, and the people of Poland took to the streets in solidarity to protest against the near-total ban on abortion.
The decision to further tighten the abortion laws, which were already some of the strictest in Europe, has led to a new wave of art. Inspired by these controversial laws and the demonstrations that have followed, Polish artists have taken to the canvas to express their opinion on the matter. UP & COMING ART had a chance to speak to a couple of these artists.
Polish artist Martynka Frackowiak uses oil and canvas to reinterpret photos that have been taken with a strong light. Acknowledging the political situation in Poland, Frackowiak created a series of artwork relating to the new abortion laws: ‘This is not an incubator’, ‘We are going to fight’ and Frackowiak’s interpretation of the red lightning bolt – the official symbol of the women’s strike. In an exclusive interview, Martynka discusses the role that art plays in the new abortion laws and how the Polish government perceives women.
“I think we need art to share our feelings about new abortion laws because it’s really hard to describe it in words. We want to show how much our government has hurt Polish women, how they have no respect for us at all.”
Last year, before the alterations of the law, there were 1000 legal abortions in Poland. It is estimated that there were about 100,000 illegal abortions in the same year. “We protest because we want access to safe abortion and to stop our government from stigmatizing it.”
“We use art to show our anger in public. Artists share their paintings and graphics in high-quality so that protesters can print them out and hold them up in public. By sharing our art, we show the solidarity that binds us together in this difficult time. We’re supporting each other and trying to tell our women they’re not alone. Because we know it’s time to fight when our rights are taken away like it’s nothing.”
Polish artist Julita Malinowska, has been living and working in Warsaw for seven years. She creates distinctive paintings. Neatly composed fleeting moments. Representations of people juxtaposed against an abstractly treated background. Malinowska shares her experience with the recent law changes, the creativity flowing from the young protesters and how she approaches it through her artwork.
Why are people protesting against the Polish government? According to Malinowska, “We do not want women’s rights to be restricted. We don’t want such a government. We are afraid of what will happen next.”
“In the twenty-first century, in the middle of Europe, in a member state of the European Union, the government, by the hands of the highest instance, from which there is no appeal anymore, deprives women in Poland of the possibility to decide about themselves and their future.”
Malinowska notes that the protesters are of the younger generation – University and high school students. “Young people are fighting in the streets, but everyone else is doing what they can. The slogan written on the cardboard boxes shows the extraordinary CREATIVITY of young people.” Mailnowska adds that, “although the words of the protesters include Anger, rage, the protests themselves have a very calm, cultural and peaceful course (there is no question of lynching, but rather a peaceful and civilized takeover of power).”
“How can my art help? Honestly, the decision of the Constitutional Court literally paralyzed me. For the first week, I could not tear myself away from observing the very dynamic development of the situation in the media. I also actively participated in the protest, although it was not an easy decision – my family was against it, they are very afraid of contagion in the crowd – I felt that this was our business and I could not do otherwise.”
But Malinowska has ulterior motives to go out and protest: “I have a daughter and I don’t want her to live in such a country!”
“Even before the protest started, I started to paint a large-format depicting six women and the decision of the Constitutional Tribunal stopped my work. I thought about adding a sign of the women’s strike – the lightning bolt – because it became a symbol of that time, but also a symbol of the struggle against the patriarchy. And also because now I have the impression that the most important thing is solidarity. I usually work on one painting for a long time (for a month or longer) and I have the impression that the time will come for the sublimation of what I am experiencing now.”
RECREATING SOLIDARITY POSTERS
Sprouting from the sea of protesters are many banners and placards that bear slogans such as, ‘Stop tightening abortion laws’, ‘Disgrace!’, ‘War on women’, ‘I will not give birth to a dead baby,’ and ‘Women’s strike’, the name of the organising movement that fights the changes in abortion laws. They also carried banners with the red lightning logo – the symbol of the protests.
One particular placard that has been spotted in the crowd is based on a famous campaign poster of the Solidarity trade union, which helped topple the communist regime in 1989.
The poster, which was designed for Poland’s first democratic vote after the second World War, read ‘Solidarnosc’ (solidarity) in red, bold writing and featured a full-length silhouette of American actor, Gary Cooper from the 1952 film,’High Noon’.
Polish artist, Jarek Kubicki has taken this original image and updated it for today’s protests, replacing Gary Cooper with famous female heroines from movies such as ‘Kill Bill’, ‘The Terminator’ and ‘Alien’. The artist also swapped out the words, ‘Solidarity’ with a Polish expression that translates as ‘Get the fuck out of here’. Kubicki stated that “The logo of Solidarity… is associated with rebellion, with the fight for rights, with the fight for dignity.”
PROTESTS LEADING TO CHANGE
With ongoing protests, the largest since the fall of communism, and no signs of them subsiding, the Polish government announced on 3rd November that they will delay the implementation of the court ruling.
Michał Dworczyk, the head of the prime minister’s office, told Polish media: “There is a discussion going on, and it would be good to take some time for dialogue and for finding a new position in this situation, which is difficult and stirs high emotions.” Although the government is yet to make an affirmative decision, these delays indicate that the worldwide demonstrations have made the Polish government sit up and listen.