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<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

<i>Fading Traces</i> – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

Fading Traces – women artists yesterday and today. Seven subjective art histories presented in Anka Lesniak's project.

Karolina Jablonska, 2011-03-12

Anka Lesniak in her project deconstructed the way art historians work. The artist referred to the art of women who started to create in the 70’s in Poland. She does not do it, however, based on bibliography, but shows the art history of that time referring to the direct testimony of the artists. This way she continues her previous research dealing with the role of women in art and art history.

Fading Traces was shown in Manhattan Gallery (Galeria Manhattan, Lodz, Poland) as an accompanying exhibition during the Fokus Lodz Biennale. Its main part consisted of video projections that were a kind of artistic investigation. The witnesses were women artists who had started being active in the 70’s. Their actions were innovative and experimental. Video projections showed interviews with them. A starting point for each statement was an attempt to describe the situation of women in art 40 years ago and now. The artists we could listen to were: Izabella Gustowska, Anna Kutera, Natalia LL, Teresa Murak, Ewa Partum, Krystyna Piotrowska and Teresa Tyszkiewicz. Each of their comments was a kind of a personal document, an image of art of that time. The focus shifted however from the ready works of art and facts that one may find in books to the context of creating art and individual feelings of people who were doing it. Each of the artists sketched her own map of art in the 70’s, on which there are some common points.

An impulse to create Fading Traces was Lesniak's observation that after a few decades of art history only a dozen or so women’s names are being remembered. Anka Lesniak asked many questions: is the name list complete? If any of the artists were forgotten then why was it so? How were women handling their situation then? What has changed since then and how from the perspective of 40 years can the artists evaluate their own deeds and the works of their colleagues? What kind of activities turned out to be the most important, not only in the judgment of art history but, above all, in their own opinion?

It turned out that the name list that was completed in this part of the project consisted of several dozens of women. So it was not so bad. However, a lot of them are absent in the studies on Polish art in the 70’s. What’s even worse, it’s hard to get to most of the materials. Even the authors of most recent publications about Polish art in the 70’s, like Lukasz Ronduda, skip many names, and in other publications they are merely listed. So the suspicion that "books follow their own code" (Izabella Gustowska) has been confirmed. The project also proved, how helpful private archives of other artists, friends and critics can be in the research.

From the artists’ statements it is clear, that the world of art, at least in Poland in the 70’s, one may call a men’s world. Somewhere in the air there was a stereotype of a wife and a mother to which a lot of artists submitted, resigning from their artistic work. Although a woman in a socialist country "could have driven a tractor, could have everything" (Natalia LL), however she was a "somewhat distressed woman" (Natalia LL). Equality of women was only an illusion. The misunderstanding resulting from the theory of the equality of sexes in Poland in the 70’s, and the practice was also mentioned by Anna Kutera when she was telling about her contacts with the artists from the West. They expected her to support them in their fight for women’s rights, because of her being from a socialist country, they saw an ally in her, while in Poland the problem was marginalized. There was also no space in Polish reality to think about a woman as an avant-garde artist. Natalia LL in 70's mentioned an award that she had received thanks to support from two women on the jury and about a displeasure that it caused among the men on the same board. So in many cases women encouraged women.

On the other hand, it came out of conversations, that women artists in the 70’s had not as much confidence as today. Krystyna Piotrowska mentioned the first women exhibition in which she took part, remembering, that even the artists who participated in it had not been convinced about the value of that project. The uncertainty was evoked by the fact that only women participated. Paradoxically, in some cases women were deprecating their own art. No woman applied to the Address Gallery (Galeria Adres, Lodz, Poland) ran by Ewa Partum, because "what can a woman offer anyone to boost her career?" (Ewa Partum). Teresa Murak paid attention to a certain gentleness that is typical for women. It made it more difficult or sometimes impossible to develop their careers dynamically despite the fact that "they have this kind of thoughtfulness that does good in art" (Teresa Murak).

Most artists underlined the role they played in Polish art of the 70’s as consisting of breaking stereotypes. To a large extent thanks to their attitude, female artists that are active today are so free. According to Ewa Partum, women’s works of art are still less valued on the art market, so the marginalization of women’s art still exists. The artists’ comments contained a lot of information about their works, especially about the ones that are omitted in scholarly surveys. An additional value was also an opportunity to look at them from the perspective of 40 years. This perspective allows us to see the real value and innovativeness of a lot of works. The women’s art in Poland was really interesting, in many cases very courageous in both the concept and the form.

The first part of the project Fading Traces completed by Anka Lesniak has shown, that in the research on Polish art there are a lot of unexplored areas. The position of Polish women artists in the 70’s is one of them. Everyone who researches Polish or women’s art, and especially if one focuses on that time, should see Anka Lesniak’s work. One may say that the first part of Fading Traces ended with success: the artist managed to find a lot of traces to follow. Although they are off the beaten track.

The work connects the documentary value with the artistic perfidiousness. In fact, Lesniak by asking questions to the artists who debuted 40 years ago, also asks if today the situation is any different. Has the phenomenon of women’s disappearing from the history of art already ended? Or maybe this is another stereotype, because as Izabella Gustowska says: "Today there are way more women in art. But who will stay, we will see in 20 years".

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