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Posters' exhibition "Images of 'Solidarity'. Solid Art"

by Jacek Gawlowski
The exhibition of posters "Images of 'Solidarity'. Solid Art", inspired by Janusz Lewandowski - MEP, is going to take place in the European Parliament, as a part of the "25th Anniversary of the SOLIDARITY Movement" celebration in Brussels.

The posters are going to be exhibited in the History Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona, as well.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multilingual catalogue SOLID ART© (Polish, English, French; selected articles also in German and Spanish).

Introduction by Janusz Lewandowski:

25 years ago Europe was different - divided. The iron curtain separated the nations living in freedom from those that could only dream about being free. It had seemed that this was a permanent state and all hope should be abandoned. All uprisings of those who yearned for freedom in the Soviet empire were struck down in bloodshed. The guardian of the order, which was created at the Yalta conference, was an army of millions of soldiers, which had nuclear weapons at its disposal.

In 1980, a year after Pope John Paul II had given courage to his fellow countrymen during his visit to Poland, hope was restored in Gdansk, a hope that triumphed over fear; Solidarity was born. The scale of civil disobedience in the whole country and the amazing ability of 10 million people to organize themselves into an independent trade union paralysed the communist regime. The strikes in the cities of the Polish coast echoed everywhere around the world, and the face of the charismatic union leader, Lech Walesa, became known on every continent. The freedom movement took the form of a trade union, which was the most problematic Form for the "state of workers", and because the world's attention was focused on the Gdansk Shipyard, it was very difficult for the government to launch a military intervention. In December 1981, when the communist regime finally decided to counteract by introducing martial law, it was already too late. Nothing could stop this nation any more, for it had regained its dignity and was now aspiring to freedom. Solidarity was the first sign of civil awakening all over Central and Eastern Europe.

The peaceful character of Solidarity's ethos made this movement exceptional and was its precious legacy. This was also illustrated by the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Lech Walesa in 1983. The bloodless revolution of 1989 became the example of a peaceful and democratic political transformation. The 1989 "Autumn of Revolutions" restored freedom in Central and Eastern Europe.

Thus, August of 1980 became legendary. It triggered inspiration in artists, both professionals and amateurs, whose works assisted the workers' protests and helped encourage the people during the harsh period of martial law. That August had been the inspiration for Andrzej Wajda's Film "Man of Iron", which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1981. It inspired artists beyond Poland, too.

The large number of artworks inspired by the August of 1980 and by Solidarity is a symbol of that era, but it also conveys a universal message, which is becoming highly relevant in the times of a global terror threat. Solidarity showed that it is possible to achieve far-reaching goals and change history without resorting to violence, which brings only pain and suffering to innocent people.

From the exhibition's catalogue (articles by Wladyslaw Serwatowski):

"In collective memory the emergence of SOLIDARITY can be described by the following formula: August 1980 = June 1956 + March 1968 + December 1970 + June 1976,'
by Czeslaw Bielecki
wrote the young English historian Timothy Garton Ash (born 1955) in his book The Polish Revolution: Solidarity 1980-82 (London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1983), for which the British Society of Authors presented him with the Sommerset Maugham Award in 1984. Earlier the architect Czeslaw Bielecki had come to a similar conclusion designing a poster which he enriched with the experiences of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising.

The proper name SOLIDARITY is primarily associated with the strikes in the Gdansk Shipyard because of their 25th anniversary, but its history is more complex. It was already mentioned in March 1883 in the name Polish Party SOLIDARITY (Pol. Polska Partia SOLIDARNOSC) that had emerged from a split within the so-called "First Proletariat", a revolutionary workers' party.

The term solidarity exists in law sciences (as the obligation to mutual responsibility and assistance), psychology (as the tendency to act in a similar way to other members of a group) and sociology (where it describes cooperation and co-responsibility when the group is being threatened from outside).
In August 1980 in the Gdansk Shipyard the term solidarity was used as a key to victory in the public speeches of Andrzej Gwiazda (the co-founder of the Free Trade Unions of the [Polish] Coast [Pol. Wolne Zwiazki Zawodowe Wybrzeza]) and of Lech Walesa.

SOLIDARITY as a name appeared in the title of the Strike Information Bulletin Solidarity, which was edited by Konrad Bielinski, Ewa Milewicz and Krzysztof Wyszkowski the activists of the Committee for the Defence of Workers, and which was printed in the "Free Gdansk Printing Works" (Pol. "Wolna Drukarnia Gdanska"). The first issue appeared in 20,000 copies in the Gdansk Shipyard on 23rd August 1980.
by Jerzy Janiszewski
The first posters with the SOLIDARNOSC heading (the Polish word for "SOLIDARITY") designed by Jerzy Janiszewski appeared during the last week of August 1980, and on 30th August the shipyard workers were already wearing T-shirts with SOLIDARNOSC printed on them, a white and red flag above the letter "N", all in a red and disobedient font.

The examination of Solidarity posters and qualifying them for an exhibition brings about a few remarks and conclusions that have not yet been formulated explicitly.
The purpose of this introduction is to explain the choices and selections made by the exhibition's curator to the visitors of the Brussels exhibition.

In the history of SOLIDARITY posters I distinguish four distinct periods:
 from August 1980 until December 1981; during this time the works were created out of spontaneous commitment of many designers, who wanted to contribute to the creation of an atmosphere that would help bring about hope and political and economic change in Poland.
 from December 1981 until the end of 1988; in this period Solidarity posters circulated secretly, and were often published by underground patriotic groups; their circulation numbers were low, their formats - small and their print quality - limited.
 from the spring of 1989 until the spring of 1991; these were the times of the thaw before the Agreement of the Polish Round Table, which resulted in the political transformation in Poland, and, as a consequence, also in Central and Eastern Europe; these were also the times when Lech Walesa won the presidential election and became Polish President, and the times the victory over communism was celebrated.
 from 1991 until 2005; during this period SOLIDARITY posters have either served short-term election purposes or have had historical and sentimental character in order to show the importance of Poland's most recent history or to stress the merits of the 1980-81 generation.

I classify the quality of SOLIDARITY posters according to clear criteria of their publication time.
 in the first period the socio-political changes were the reason for many anonymous posters to appear; these posters are described as anonymous because they bear no features that would allow the identification of their designers;
 in the second period this tendency was continued. The reason for that was the caution and experience of the designers who were in opposition to the communist state and who by remaining anonymous could reduce the risk for themselves and for the people among whom their works were distributed;

From August 1980 until the spring of 1989 many printed works which had the technical parameters of a poster were designed by people ideologically committed to the ideals of SOLIDARITY, but without any experience and knowledge about poster design. Many such documents about social life in Poland during that period are stored in the archives of various institutions, but those documents are called posters only because of their similarity to works that indeed belong to this category;

by Luigi Castiglioni
From August 1980 until August 2005 outstanding poster designers, painters, illustrators and photographers having a sensitive eye and heart for current events in various ways combined their creative work with the ideals of SOLIDARITY that they supported, or with the goals of the Independent and Self-Governing Trade Union SOLIDARNOSC (SOLIDARITY), whose members they were. The artworks created in that period are artistically most valuable. Their advantage is not only the fact that they rationally document emotion, but it is also their professional quality and their permanent message formulated by a renowned sender. Among the artists, whose works are presented at this exhibition, are artists from Poland as well as from other countries - artists who were moved by the events in Poland and who left a material sign of their views and attitudes.

I intentionally included two more works into the exhibition, as they enrich the poster collection on display, even though they do not quite fulfil the qualification criteria mentioned above.
 The crying pigeon / Placzacy golab, 1956 is a lithography by Franciszek Starowieyski. It is not commented by any text, but it conveys a strong energy of solidarity with the Hungarians, who, seeking justice, freedom and democracy, were revolting against communist rule in 1956.
 The White Eagle / Orzel Bialy, 2005, by Tomasz Musial painted on canvas, using an original "lashing" technique symbolically touches and warns: if ideals are to become a permanent element of our lives, they require enormous effort, and sometimes even sacrifice. It is indeed worth to remain attached to these ideals, dreams and ambitious and valuable goals.


Anna Walentynowicz, called the Mother Courage of the Gdansk Shipyard (then the Lenin Shipyard), was immortalized as the main character in Hanna Krall's play Relations / Relacje, put on stage of the National Theatre in Warsaw in 1981. Walentynowicz belongs to the most important personalities connected with the beginnings of SOLIDARNOSC. She had been working in the shipyard for 30 years, but in August 1980 she was to be disciplinary dismissed from work for political reasons - for she had always been telling the truth. During the strike the shipyard workers demanded that Walentynowicz be permitted to return to work...
In her memories from August 1980 she wrote:
"It was on 14th August before the first shift. We were hoping that after a few hours, maybe after one day at most, the manager would withdraw the dismissal and all things would return back to normal. People were gathering in front of the posters, they were reading the leaflets that were being handed out, but there was nothing about the strike was beginning. Indignation at the management was increasing, the need to manifest dissent together was growing in people's minds, but fear was still predominant..."
Walentynowicz's poster reminiscences are an occasion to remind that
"in August 1980 in the central canteen of the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk an exhibition of photograms and 33 posters from the National Theatre, which was founded in 1765 by the Polish king Stanislaw II August Poniatowski, was taking place. The exhibition was organized on behalf of the National Theatre by Wladyslaw Serwatowski, press and advertising expert. After leaving the Gdansk Shipyard the exhibition will be displayed in the Maritime Culture House (Morski Dom Kultury) in the Gdansk New Port and also in other cultural institutions of the Gdansk coastal region."
This is the way a newspaper of the shipbuilding industry, the "Shipyard Worker's Voice" ("Glos Stoczniowca"), issue no. 1641 from 8th August 1980, informed about the exhibition. Together with the article there appeared a black and white photograph with posters by Henryk Tomaszewski, Jan Lenica, Marcin Mroszczak and Jerzy Czerniawski.

The short note that otherwise would only have documentary character becomes important now, as the exhibition in Brussels is part of the international celebrations of SOLIDARITY's 25th anniversary. To further stress the importance of Polish poster art I looked up in the archives an old note with a photograph sent to me by an anonymous Gdansk Shipyard worker, who wrote that during the August strike in the shipyard he had remembered the poster exhibition from the National Theatre. To emphasize that he was satisfied with the exhibition he added that he was an amateur weaver and that in the pauses between the political negotiations in the shipyard he had created a tapestry depicting one of the posters from the exhibition in the shipyard's canteen. He enclosed a coloured photograph of his work inspired by Jan Lenica's poster to the play Two Theatres / Dwa Teatry by Jerzy Szaniawski. The creator of that tapestry still remains anonymous.

The exposition in Brussels shall correspond to the times when the posters were created. This is why I had originally planned to place two huge cargo containers at the seat of the European Parliament and at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. The SOLIDARITY posters published in the times of censorship (1980-1989) were to be exhibited inside the first, closed container, in the second and open one – the posters connected with SOLIDARITY, published outside Poland or in Poland after 1990. A thick ship rope was to mark the exhibition space and a port anchor was to remind about merits of the Gdansk Shipyard. But when it turned out that the containers do not fit into the closed space that had been planned for the exhibition, I decided to exchange them for two rough iron gates. One of them will be closed, so that it is a metaphor of the strike in August 1980, when shipyard workers were locked in the shipyard. The other – open – will be symbolizing freedom. In addition, the ship rope will form the word "SOLIDARNOSC".

The art of preparing an exhibition is sometimes the art of being able to abandon certain ideas and to introduce unexpected changes. To convey the atmosphere of August 1980 and to bring closer the heroes of the Gdansk Shipyard, several front pages of renowned newspapers and magazines from Brussels, Hamburg, London, New York, Paris and Zürich have also been included into the exhibition. What is more, on exhibition are also the remarkable photographs that were made in August 1980 by Erazm Ciolek and Giovanni Giovannetti.

To conclude I need to add that a perfect poster always communicates three levels of experience: Information, illustration and inspiration. In my opinion, the historic and artistic posters connected with SOLIDARITY do fulfil all the criteria of perfection.

Wladyslaw Serwatowski
- exhibition scenario, commissioner and catalogue editor
July 2005

Places of the exhibition:
  • European Parliament, Altiero Spinelli Building, Brussels:
    August 30 - September 2, 2005
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles, Le Grand Hall:
    September 20 - October 4, 2005
  • Museu d'Història de Catalunya / History Museum of Catalonia, Barcelona:
    September 21 - October 20, 2005
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