Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska (b. 1975) – former curator at the Zachęta – National Gallery of Art and co-founder of the Archaeology of Photography Foundation. Currently, Ziębińska-Lewandowska works as a curator of photography at the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In 2001 she graduated from the Institute of Art History at the University of Warsaw, with a thesis on the photographic oeuvre of Zbigniew Dłubak. In the years to come, she curated numerous exhibitions presenting, among others, works by this artist. One of the first tasks undertaken by the Archaeology of Photography Foundation was to systematize Dłubak’s archive.
Between 2003-2009, she was working on her PhD dissertation titled Between Documentary and Experiment - Debates in Polish Photographic Magazines 1946-1989 (Pomiędzy dokumentem i eksperymentem. Debaty w polskich magazynach fotograficznych z lat 1946-1989).
In 1999 Ziębińska-Lewandowska started working at Zachęta – National Gallery of Art - a collaboration which would continue for the next ten years. At first, she worked as an assistant to the director Anda Rottenberg. Later on, she was responsible for preparing photographic exhibitions, publications and acquisitions. She curated the seminal exhibition She-Documentalists – Polish Women Photographers of the XX Century (2008), which exposed works by the hitherto marginalized creators of photography. It featured works by photographers such as Zofia Chomętowska, Fortunata Obrąpalska, Zofia Rydet, Julia Pirotte, and others.
Another important exhibition prepared by Ziębińska-Lewandowska during that period was Polonia and Other Fables (2009) – the first presentation of works by Allan Sekula in Poland, portraying Poland from the perspective of a Polish-American.
When working at Zachęta, Ziębińska-Lewandowska was also involved in organizing academic conferences. The first one took place in 2004 and focused on photo reportage in the 1950s. The next one was titled Polish Documentary Photography at the Crossroads of Discourse (Polska fotografia dokumentalna na skrzyżowaniu dyskursów, 2005).
In 2008, Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska and Karolina Puchała-Rojek, with the support of Rafał Lewandowski (Karolina’s husband) and Anna Duńczyk-Szulc, founded the Archaeology of Photography Foundation (Fundacja Archeologia Fotografii). It was the first institution of its kind in Poland, looking to protect and bring to light the archives of influential Polish photographers on a major scale. It worked towards popularizing and making the archives accessible by means of initiating photographic projects based on the content of the archives. The foundation was involved in the Polish-Norwegian project FotoRejestr, aimed at creating a photographic database of private collections and at popularizing the idea of archiving photography.
Ziębińska-Lewandowska explained the reasons for forming the Foundation in an interview for the the Gazeta Muranowska newspaper:
There were two impulses. One of them was an ongoing exchange with Jerzy Lewczyński […], who created the theory of archaeology of photography, and effectively became the patron of the Foundation. That was the time when my husband, Rafał Lewandowski, came up with the idea of forming a foundation that would be responsible for protecting the legacy of Polish photographers. During the same period, I was preparing queries for the She-Documentalists exhibition, with the help of Karolina Puchała-Rojek and Anna Duńczyk-Szulc. We were having difficulties accessing the archives and we also noticed that often they wouldn’t be looked after properly.
In a conversation with Adam Mazur published in the Obieg online magazine, she gave her reasons for leaving Zachęta:
It was becoming hard to concentrate on developing the foundation, which was gaining pace as an institution, and at the same time continuing work as a curator at Zachęta, not only because of the lack of time. I didn’t want use my position as a curator at Zachęta to validate the Foundation.
In 2011, the Archaeology of Photography Foundation initiated the project Living Archives, whose goal was to:
introduce now classic Polish photographers into the wider context of the history of art and culture by means of their oeuvres being reinterpreted by contemporary artists who offer new frameworks and interpretations of lesser known or forgotten works.
The project has welcomed a number of contemporary photographers, such as: Nicolas Grospierre (who worked with the archive of Tadeusz Sumiński), Krzysztof Pijarski (with his interpretation of Jerzy Lewczyński’s archive), Jakub Śwircz and Kuba Dąbrowski (who collaborated on creating the book The American Woman (Amerykanka), with photographs by Zofia Chomętowska), or Karolina Breguła (who created open air installations using photographs by the same photographer), to name but a few.
In 2013, Ziębińska-Lewandowska organized two international seminars: Polish and Central East European Photography Research, organized together with Sabina Gill at the Tate Modern in London, and Photography – Museum Narratives, organized in collaboration with the National Museum in Warsaw and the National Institute of Museology and Collections Protection, whose goal was to investigate the position of photography in the collections of contemporary art institutions.
Ziębińska-Lewandowska was involved in editing over 20 catalogues for exhibitions that she curated. A number of her texts have been featured in academic publications, e.g. the online peer-reviewed journal on visual culture View (Widok), or in the book accompanying the show Repartir à Zéro – 1945-1949, which took place at the Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon in 2009.
It is thanks to the consistent work carried out by Ziębińska-Lewandowska and Puchała-Rojek that the names of such photographers as Zofia Chomętowska, Zbigniew Dłubak or Jerzy Lewczyński have engrained themselves in the minds of the art-goers, and the works of Maria Chrząszczowa or Tadeusz Sumiński were brought to light. The Archaeology of Photography Foundation is also involved in promoting the Polish authors abroad – in 2013 an exhibition of Zbigniew Dłubak’s photographs was organized at the PhotoEspana festival in Madrid; the Foundation also continues to release multi-lingual publications with works by Polish photographers.
In March 2014 Karolina Ziębińska-Lewandowska started working as a curator of photography at Paris’ Centre Pompidou, where she closely cooperates with Clément Chéroux, the head of the department.
Over 20 catalogues (Polish-English) to exhibitions she curated, including:
author: Michał Dąbrowski, March 2014, translated with edits by AM, March 2014