No 1 (89) 2012
January - March

Today There Are Many Women in Art

The latest project by Anka Leśniak - an artist and art historian - has been a continuation of a creative and research effort initiated some years ago. Her quest relates to the place and role of women in art, and the picture revealed is quite optimistic.

Agnieszka Rayzacher

Art critic, curator. She publishes texts on contemporary art.

Agnieszka Rayzacher

I MET ANKA LEŚNIAK WHEN SHE APPROACHED ME TO DISPLAY her projectt, Fading Traces, in the lokal_30. I did not need much encouragement since Fading Traces have been based on interviews conducted with the most significant women in the Polish art of the 70's - Izabela Gustowska, Anna Kutera, Natalia LL, Teresa Murak, Ewa Partum, Krystyna Piotrowska and Teresa Tyszkiewicz. Besides the interviews and quotes, Anka Leśniak put on the wall several dozens of names of the artists from that period. The question - what and who is to survive in art and culture - has been an everlasting problem. Certainly, it is more difficult for a woman to keep her position, it is harder to combine several roles and to play perfectly each of them.

Every effort is double, each frustration and disappointment more severe. While working on this text, I looked into the FB and I was astonished to find there a message addressed to me by one of the more important Polish contemporary artists: "It's hard to be a woman: you must think like a man, act like a lady, look like a young girl and act like a horse...". Tied up by cultural stereotypes, we force on ourselves grueling conditions and a breakneck pace. When I look 30 years back, I find in Polish art many women who suddenly disappeared, though their "careers" had been extremely promising; they were interesting artists who... Couldn't they stand the pressure? Did they feel excluded? Did they have to choose between art and family? I find it puzzling, it certainly provides a food for thought. In Fading Traces Izabela Gustowska observed: "Today there are many women in art. We will see in 20 years who is to remain". This statement has been a stimuli for Anka Leśniak to conduct interviews with young artists who could have been daughters of the artists featured in the first part of the project. It is interesting that Anka Leśniak has not invited to participate the most famous or the most charismatic artists. As she confessed: "I have selected the artists whom I know, like and appreciate their work, also the ones I have not met but whom I would like to meet. The project was a perfect opportunity for an encounter. They live in different cities, the situations they are in differ, so does their material status. Achievements by some of them have been already discovered by critics and curators on a national scale, as for others, they should have been noticed". We see Anka Leśniak's interlocutors not in terms of their artistic achievements, rather as young women who tell what it means for them to be artists. This is an interesting juxtaposition of strong female characters; the experienced artists versus the girls out of whom none has been involved in art for more than 10 years. Thus, both projects, the Fading Traces and Registered, pertain to the same subject matter, nevertheless approached from a completely different angle. The former tells about the past, the latter about the future. If one is to consider the project by Anka Leśniak as the work, at least, partly documentary, it will be worth seeing its third part in 30 years, and have the today characters of the Registered describe their experience.

The most significant, however, is the message delivered in the statements by young artists who confess that though their predecessors paved the way for them in the 70's, there are still many ups and downs today - few women studying at Academies of Fine Arts, the need to reconcile several roles, and as the author herself said "sidetracking into minor issues". This does not sound too optimistic but it seems high time to be more assertive...

The exhibition by Anka Leśniak was the last to take place at the Poznań ON Gallery in its current location and shape. The fact is meaningful since the Gallery has been co-founded by some of the characters featured in the piece by Anka Leśniak - Izabela Gustowska, Krystyna Piotrowska and Magda Komborska.

Anka Leśniak, "Fading Traces", the ON Gallery, Poznań, December 2nd - 14th 2011; "Registered", the ON Gallery, Poznań, December 16th 2011 - January 14th 2012.