She studied at the Painting Department of the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków, where in 2001 she completed her diploma in Leszek Misiak’s studio. At that time many other painters studied with Misiak, including members of the artistic group Ładnie,and, years later, the painters of another well-known group, Potencja. Nevertheless, Cecylia Malik’s career quickly took a different course.
Initially, Malik was mainly engaged in painting. Her works from 2004-2010 took forms borrowed from sacred art and referred to polyptichs and iconostases. However, their subject matter was far from religious solemnity. The artist focused on urban details such as manhole covers, gas boxes, and the windows of cellars. Noticing often overlooked urban details makes Malik’s series of paintings resemblant of the photobook W-Wa by Maurycy Gomulicki. It also foreshadows Malik’s subsequent intense interest in both the public space and social problems. All her works from the series Miasto (editor’s translation: City), which was created over the course of 5 years, were painted outdoors. As the artist says, this urban experience comprised not only being in a specific place but also coming across different people while painting.
Malik has also created works related directly to her own house and neighbourhood. She spent some time observing a homeless person who slept in a cabin with no windows and doors near her house. She got to know him as she came to visit and share food with him. It turned out Jan collected scrap to make a living. The artist would borrow some of these metal objects from the man, which she then she portrayed them in the spirit of her previous works on urban details. In the spring of 2009, she exhibited them in the garden where Jan’s cabin was located. The project ended in the same place a year later with Koncert u Pana Żula (Concert at Mr. Bum’s) organised to commemorate Jan, who suddenly disappeared – according to local homeless people, the artist’s temporary neighbour died.
Ulica Smoleńsk 22/8, a 2010 project, is a work related directly to the artist’s family history, and, at the same time, one of the first Polish works tackling the problem of gentrification and the social consequences of the political transformation of 1989. The work was created in co-operation with the artist’s sister, Justyna Koeke, in their family home, located in the titular street. When the tenement house in the centre of Kraków where the family’s apartment was located got a new owner, the rent became three times higher. The Malik family had lived there since the 1930s; the increase in rent forced the artist’s parents to move out. During the two weeks between the moment the family moved out and the new owner was handed the keys, the flat became a space for encounters and conversations, turning into an exhibition-in-progess with contributions from many artists. It began with a performance by Justyna Koeke, who threw objects that would not fit in the family’s new, smaller apartment off the balcony on the third floor – closets, plants, a guitar, toys… Malik, by contrast, raised a Spanish flag sewn from bedsheets on a chestnut tree growing in the tenement house’s yard, in reference to the new owner. When the local authorities received a notification from the building’s administration to take it down, a climber was needed. The sisters managed to draw him into into the events taking place in the apartment.
It was not the first artistic situation for Malik which involved climbing a tree. In September 2009, inspired by Italo Calvino’s novel The Baron in the Trees, she started the realisation of her best-known performative project, titled 365 Drzew (365 Trees), whose photographic documentation supplemented by several texts was published as a book by the Bęc Zmiana Foundation. The idea was simple – each day Malik climbed one chosen tree and was photographed in the process. Most of the trees grew in Kraków – starting with parks and small trees near the pavement, and ending with trees in front of public buildings. Within a year, a peculiar journal and a very personal reportage about the city and its public space was created. The entire action had the fairy-tale-like, surreal air of Calvino’s work, reminiscent of carefree childhood stories, narrated, however, with greater awareness by an urban and ecological activist. As the artist explained in Lampa magazine a few months after the project commenced:
This was, in a way, my idea for Facebook. What can you do there? Send some links? It’s pointless. I started to post photos taken from different trees … This experience of nature was incredible. I climbed them in all weather conditions – downpours or snowstorms included. Obstinacy and perseverance are essential. This is a rebellion of mine.
By posting photos from subsequent trees to her Facebook every day, she quickly gained recognition and got into contact with a group of Kraków activists committed to protecting the environment. Later, she found out from one of them that a new housing development was planned on the grounds of Zakrzówek, a picturesque lagoon on the grounds of a former limestone quarry and a popular place to relax during the spring and summer time. Keeping the common green space, one of the few in a city whose residents cannot complain about an excess of parks, called for joint action. Malik grouped up with a group of artists with whom she founded Modraszek Kolektyw. Soon it was also joined by other people unrelated to art – activists and residents who cared about protecting the place. The name of the group was derived from the name of a protected butterfly – the scarce large blue – which could be found in Zakrzówek.
The visual theme of the protests organised by the collective – sky blue wings – also referred to the butterfly. Hundreds of participants of ‘zlot modraszków’ (mass gatherings of people) in Zakrzówek and the centre of Kraków wore butterfly wings painted sky-blue with acrylic paint. Thanks to the striking visual elements of the protests, they quickly attracted the attention of the local and national media. In the end, the action which was initially deemed as doomed to fail by many, including some activists, turned out to be a success. In September 2011 the local government introduced a new local land management plan for Zakrzówek, as a result of which the developer opted out from this investment, considering it unprofitable.
Modraszek Kolektyw began a series of activist, collective realisations by Malik, organised with the aim of protecting certain places from the commodification of the public space. Each action had an expressive visual leitmotif. In 2017 Malik initiated an action called Warkocze Białki (Białka’s Braids) as a protest against irrigating and draining the Białka river, which was proposed by the government. In order to keep this mountain river, one of the few that was still in its natural state, intact, Malik organised a ‘how to braid’ event in Bunkier Sztuki Gallery. The braid was supposed to reach the length of the river. Eventually, a braid over five kilometres long was plaited. A year later, when the late-modernist Cracovia hotel was to be knocked down so that another shopping centre could be constructed, Malik, in collaboration with, among others, the artist Mateusz Okoński, initiated a protest entitled Chciwość.Miasta (Greed.Cities). This time gold dominated: gold costumes, banners with dollar and Euro signs, and lastly, alluding to the Bible – a golden calf sitting in a shopping cart. Malik explained the title of this happening in an interview with Marta Świetlik, published in Obieg magazine:
Miasta (Cities) is the title of a wall mosaic by Helena and Roman Husarski, which was discovered by Mateusz in Hotel Cracovia. Greed? Hotel Cracovia, which is a monument of modernist architecture, has been cheated by greed. The investor and local authorities claim that there is no point in renovating it as it could cost more than building a whole new shopping centre in its place.
In the end, the hotel from the times of late Polish modernism was preserved. It had better luck than Pawilon Chemii or Pawilon Emilia, two demolished modernist pavilions which were located in Warsaw, as the hotel was purchased by the National Museum which has its headquarters across the street, and is now being rebuilt and renovated to become another department of the museum.
Malik kept returning to the motif of rivers – Warkocze Białki began to live a life of its own, and was displayed at international exhibitions and used by activists as a symbol in the fight to save other rivers. Malik also initiated Wodna Masa Krytyczna (Water Critical Mass) together with Gocha Nieciecka and Martyna Niedośpiał – a rafting event on the Wisła every year to protect rivers.
Malik concentrated on the Cracovian tributaries of the Wisła in her project 6 Rzek (6 Rivers) carried out in 2011 and 2012. Although it departed from the protest’s aesthetics, it was more intimate and referred to children’s games. It had the form of documentation similar to the earlier 365 Drzew (365 Trees). Malik sailed across all of the Wisła’s river basins from the administrative boundaries of the town to their estuaries in a boat she’d made herself, focusing on the specificities of each and the characteristic natural reserves that surround them. Each journey is captured in a series of photos and films devoted to each of the rivers.
In her latest action, Malik combined the aesthetics of a protest with a purely artistic performance on the verge of a photoreportage and an arranged, surreal situation. Matka Polka na Wyrębie (Polish Mother on Felling) was a reaction towards a legislative amendment resulting in countrywide mass logging. The artist commented on the beginnings of this action:
When I sat on a trunk that was still a tree a day before, I thought about when I spent a year climbing trees – I was younger, thinner, the strongest I’ve been in my entire life, emancipated and my children did not require constant care. Seven years went by, and I’ve entered a completely new period in life – a lot has happened, I have become more mature, I gained a little perspective and humility, I’m the mother of little Ignaś, and in Poland this absolute felling is in progress. I asked (my husband) Piotrek to take a photo of me sitting on a trunk, breastfeeding Ignaś. This is how the first Matka Polka na Wrębie (Polish Mother on Felling) came into being.
Cecylia Malik was soon joined by other women who followed her example, resulting in dozens of photos of mothers breastfeeding their children among cut down trees.
Selected solo exhibitions:
- 2015 – Ogród, The Kraków Gallery Weekend KRAKERS, Kraków
- 2013 – Rezerwat Miasto, Bunkier Sztuki Gallery, Kraków
- 2011 – Koncert, Zderzak Gallery, Kraków
- 2010 – 365 Drzew, MpiK Gallery, Gliwice
- 2009 – Ikonstas Miasto, Zderzak Gallery, Kraków
- 2001 – Malarstwo, Cracovian House, Nuremberg
Selected group exhibitions:
- 2017-2018 – Artyści z Krakowa. Generacja 1970–1979, MOCAK, Kraków
- 2016 – Robiąc użytek. Życie w epoce postartystycznej, Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw
- 2012 – 6 Rzek, film premiere, Artboom festival Kraków
- 2011 – Biennale of Contemporary Art in Saint Petersburg
- 2011 – Szachrajki, Łobuzy, Pasożyty, BWA Studio Gallery, Wrocław
- 2010 – Mambo Spiniza, Zderzak Gallery, Kraków
- 2010 – Ulica Smoleńsk 22/8, Kraków
- 2002 – Promocje: Ogólnopolski przegląd malarstwa młodych, Art Gallery in Legnica