Anka Leśniak

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WORKS 2016


objects, video, photographs

XX1 Gallery, Warsaw

The project Women patRIOTs deals with the issue of patriotism, shown through the attitudes of specific Polish women who lived in the turn of 19th and 20th century. The inspiration for the project was a book entitled Polish Terrorists written by Wojciech Lada, in which the author describes attacks on tsarist officials organized on Polish lands annexed by the Russian Empire at that time. The attacks sometimes were effective, but very often ineffective and caused the death of accidental victims. Women were significantly involved in this activity, not only by distributing illegal printed material, but also by smuggling weapons, ammunition and, for example, throwing bombs from balconies, like Wanda Krahelska, Albertyna Helbertówna, Faustyna Morzycka and also Teofilia Blendkowska recalled in Zuzanna Janin's work.

Wojciech Lada writes: "It was a group of women who today are almost anonymous. After a year or two of their activities they were usually discovered. Then they were sentenced to exile in Siberian camps, returning after several years to lead modest lives as workers. History remembers only those of them, who in the Second Polish Republic stood beside prominent statesmen, such as Aleksandra Piłsudska or those few women who made a career in politics”.

The title includes the word RIOT, deliberately written in capital letters. It raises the question as to whether the Polish riot-girls proved the emancipation of women or on the contrary, whether their commitment and abilities were used to support a concept of patriotism based on a patriarchal narrative.

The project fits into the current vivid debate about the notion of patriotism in relation to such a concepts as sovereignty, nation, struggle. It provokes the question: What is the position of Polish patriotism with regard to unrest and changes in contemporary Europe and how do women themselves perceive their role in this situation?

The series Women patRIOTs consists of three objects – slightly oversized dresses, photography and video. The form of the dresses is an artistic interpretation of the descriptions of how women carried weapons hidden within their dresses, intentionally sewn in or adapted for this purpose. The colors of the dresses – white, red and black relate to the three symbolic stages of a woman's life, highlighting the fact that in the fight against oppression, women of different generations and different social classes were involved.

Photographs accompanied by brief stories of the women mentioned in Wojciech Lada's book depict the characters listed among the others in archival materials. The video-work in its visual form is based on video-documentation of subsequent stages of the project. Video-images are accompanied by a narrative related by myself and based on quotes from the book by Wojciech Lada.

video frames

Special thanks to:

Ewa Bloom-Kwiatkowska, Monika Czarska, Alicja Cichowicz, Iza Desperak, Eliza Gaust, Ewa Kamińska-Bużałek, Julia Kosmynka, Katarzyna Krzysztofik, Izabela Maciejewska, Klaudia Wojciechowska, Marta Zdanowska, Izabela Zielińska

and Tomasz Komorowski

The exhibition in XX1 Gallery was accompanied by panel discussion with Wojciech Lada and Zuzanna Janin.