Dorota Nieznalska studied sculpture from 1992 under Professor Franciszek Duszeńko and multimedia under Professor Grzegorz Klaman at the Gdańsk Academy of Fine Arts. She graduated in 1999. Between 1998 and 2000 she collaborated with Gdańsk's Galeria Wyspa and Fundacja Wyspa Progress. She creates installations, sculptures, photographs, videos and video installations, and lives and works in Gdańsk.
Nieznalska is one of the few Polish artists whose work tackles the difficult issues of a culture strongly rooted in the Catholic tradition and the myths surrounding it, as well as issues of modern identity, stereotypical roles and models of masculinity. Her early installations from her student days already featured fetish objects associated with the oppression inherent in certain spheres of human activity (such as Entering Into the Possession of a Mystery (1998) and Absolution (1999)). During the same period she created a series of photographs of a bitch and her owner, reflecting a relationship based on violence and submission through waist-down images of the naked man, and the bitch cringing at the sight of a leather belt (1999).
The artist gained wide-spread recognition for one of her early installations, Passion (2001). It consisted of a Greek cross with a picture of male genitals and a soundless, slow-motion video of a man exercising at a gym, filmed at a moment of intense physical effort. In exploiting the double meaning of the word 'passion' – which can refer either to the Christ's passion or to enthusiasm – Nieznalska addressed the issue of cultural violence involved in disciplining the male body, and the oppressive nature of the dominant paradigms of masculinity. According to critic Izabela Kowalczyk, this work poses questions about the "construction of masculinity in a double context: that of consumer culture and that of the Polish Catholic tradition".
Passion sparked a nation-wide controversy, triggered by loud protests from rightwing and fundamentalist Catholic activists. This led to a court ruling in 2003 that was unprecedented in Poland, sentencing the artist to six months restriction of freedom and community service for offending religious feelings. However, the sentence was repealed two years later by an appeals court, and the case was reopened.
The artist ceased to exhibit her works when the trial began, partly because galleries were afraid of a potential rightwing backlash. Her silence was broken only in 2006 with the Obedience exhibit at the Old Brewery in Poznań, featuring, among other things, a series of ten photographs of objects the artist had created. These included a leash with a bronze spiked collar, a diadem resembling a crown of thorns and a "muzzle" for the male genitals (Implantation of Perversion, 2004/2005), a combination of elements from the dark world of S&M sexual practices and religious symbolism. The film Praying Position (2005) shows the artist holding her hands in a position of prayer for as long as she physically can, until she becomes exhausted and has to put them down. But the piece that attracted the most attention during the Poznań show was No. 44 (2005/2006), a chain made of crowns of thorns hanging on a hangman's noose, which was interpreted as being the artist's ironic gibe at Polish messianism.
Nieznalska's first exhibition in a decade took place in the summer of 2011 at Gdańsk's Miejska Gallery. The exhibition revolved around the reconstruction of violence in the city of Gdańsk, from anti-Semitism to the oppression of the Solidarity protests. The exhibition presented several new works, such as the Jewellery series, which embellished a crown of thorns with Swarovski crystals or otherwise replaced the crown of thorns with a tangle of Christmas lights, or other works that fetishised religious objects and symbols of violence and hatred. The twisted and broken gate that once graced the Gdańsk shipyard symbolised the strength of determination and protest.
In Poznań the artist delves deeper into her experience of violence and persecution as the subject of such actions. In an interview given at the time of the 2011 exhibition in Gdańsk, the artist explained that
The subject of violence interests me unequivocally since the beginning of my work, beginning from my student works, such as "Modus Operandi" in 1998: the testimony of women who had been raped, sitting on stools under a single, bare lightbulb. This installation spurred a series of works on the conflict between gender relations, domination, vulnerability, subordination to another (as a victim).
Later violence was perpetrated against me, expressed through works with a fetish or sado-masochistic themes. Violence is generated on many level, which is why it is often unnoticed and unidentified.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, December 2006. Updated by Agnieszka Le Nart, January 2012.
Selected solo exhibitions:
Selected group exhibitions:
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