Monika Mamzeta publishes texts about the feminist theory of art, and she creates objects, photographs, videos, and multimedia installations. She also designs posters for feminist social actions. She lives and works in Warsaw.
Visual artist creating objects, photographs, videos, multimedia installations.
She studied law at Warsaw University and sculpture at the Fine Arts Academy in Warsaw. In 1996 she graduated from Professor Grzegorz Kowalski’s atelier. In 2001 she received an interdisciplinary PhD from the Social Sciences School of the Faculty of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Science Academy. She’s been a Since 2002 she’s been a patent attorney.
The taboo of the female body
In her art and theoretical papers, Monika Zielińska speaks of diverse subjects connected to feminism. The one that seems most important is the problem of the taboo of a woman’s body, and the series of do's and don'ts that surrounds it. The means she uses oscillate between delicate allusion and strong persuasion, bordering on feminist agitation or propaganda. Her works often have a strong social and political message, behind which hides a belief in the possibility of changing women’s situation through art. Zielińska often uses the shape of an illuminated coffer, poster, or billboard, playing with the female image created by popular culture.
These themes appeared already in 1996, in her diploma Androgyne Gyneandros. Zielińska used the effect of mirror reflections, creating an optic illusion of the images of a naked man and a naked woman interwining and changing into a new, androgynous persona.
On two similar macro-photographs, created in 1999, Zielińska confronted photographs of body parts and texts written on them. One of them was a photo of loins with all hair removed with the text “This is not a shell” (Untitled, 1999/2001), which referenced Rene Magritte’s Ceci n’est pas une pipe. While in the surrealist's famous painting, the sense consisted in showing the inappropriateness of the object, its representation and the word that describes it, Zielińska underlined the difference between female organs and the language which is used to desribe female physiology.
The word “shell” used by Zielińska points to the fact, that the woman’s womb functions in the language (and therefore in culture) only as a childish metaphor without shape, and therefore defined through its lack – Freud’s castration anxiety.
In an analogical work Genealoga/Ginealogia [Blizna po matce]
/ Geneology/Ginealogy (1999) in the frame the abdomen of a person of an unknown sex was shown, with the text “Mother’s scar” written on it. The simplest meaning is the inheritance from the mother and the relationship between mother and child. The artist shows her opposition against a world ruled by patriarchal orders, where the surname is always taken from the father. Body is an area where Zielińska finds a sign showing the presence of woman-mother. The work was presented on 400 billboards of the Outdoor AMS Gallery, between November 2000 and January 2001. In the photography series Siostry
/ Sisters (2001), Zielińska is interested in the family relations of people of the same gender.
Sisterhood is a mysterious bond. It’s about women who are similar and at the same time completely different. Their relationship (at least in these photos) consists both of affection and conventional poses.
– Agata Jakubowska wrote about the piece.
Women's role in a patriarchal culture
On the photo placed on an illuminated coffer shaped as a “T”-cross, a half-naked, heavily pregnant woman, with a chamomile garland on her head, stands in a pose referencing the crucifixion of Jesus (When I grow up, I’ll be a virgin
, 2003). The work is deeply contradictory – on the one hand the woman plays a part attributed to a man, on the other – even though she’s pregnant, she’s referring to the image of a delicate virgin. Virginity in phallocentric culture is the perfect state expected from a woman. The shape of the cross introduces the subjects of martyr and consecration. In Zielińska’s work they can reference both virginity and pregnancy – a curse cast on the woman after the original sin (the artist returned to this subject in the Hej ho
video in 2006).
The work Hommage à Witkacy
(from the Dzienniki
/Diaries series, 2001) was a series of photographs of the artist's faces, hands and feet, confronted with cut hair, nails, useless skin which women get rid of during cosmetic treatments. The work was commented by an excerpt of the popular Bridget Jones’ Diary, in which the narrator compares these activities to tillage. The reference to Witkacy’s self portraits brings a lot of irony – he was allowed to express himself freely, while a woman’s image is culturally specified. Zielińska also returned to this subject in the work Lebensborn
(1999/2001). The title is a contraction of the name of an organization formed by Himmler in 1935 which selected men and women for “breeding the Nordic race”. The artist proves that these “ideal” patterns still exist. Lebensborn is an enlarged copy of a Barbie doll with a small monitor in her stomach. On it a video is screen of a girl making a cast of the doll. The production of perfect humans was confronted with the absurdity of their proportions, revealed by the copy created by Zielińska. The symbol of female attraction is shown as a model both unattainable and unnatural.
The video Kocha, lubi, szanuje
/ Loves, likes, respects (2002). The artist used a poster created together with Marcin Górski in 2001 for a social action supporting women as candidates in parliamentary elections, called “I’m fed up with that”, on which carnations, the symbol of apparent equality during the PRL, fall out of a woman’s mouth. On the film different women standing over a ballot box, instead of election cards, throw in flower petals, reciting the words of the popular rhyme. Zielińska underlines that even though women have equal rights, they are usually associated with trivialities and pushed away from serious decisions.
Author: Karol Sienkiewicz, October 2006, translated by N. Mętrak-Ruda, November 2015.
Selected solo exhibitions:
- 1994 - Metamorfozy przestrzeni / Metamorphosis of Space - Czereja Gallery, Warsaw
- 2000 - Extra safe - Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; Genealogia/Ginealogia, AMS Outdoor Gallery
- 2003 - Mostra di Monika Mamzeta - Polish Institute in Rome and Casa Internationale delle Donne, Roma, Italy
- 2005 - When I grow up, I'll be a woman - Warsaw Artists' Active, Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions:
- 1994 - Rzeźba w ruchu / Moving Sculpture - Aspekty Gallery, Warsaw
- 1995 - Dwoistość przedmiotu / Duality of the Object - Klucz do wieży ciśnień, Bydgoszcz
- 1996 - Kobieta o kobiecie / A Woman about a Woman - BWA Bielska Gallery, Bielsko-Biała
- 1997 - Fotografia '97 / Photography '97 - Art Palace, Kraków; Parteitag - Academia Theatre, Warsaw; Galeria a.r.t., Płock (1998); BWA Katowice, Katowice (1999)
- 1999 - Utopia i wizja / Utopia and Vision - Centre for Polish Sculpture, Orońsko; Zachęta National Gallery (2000), "Cymar@Weimar" - Weimar
- 2000 - "Sexxx" - Academia Theatre, Warsaw; Galeria a.r.t., Płock (2001); Europatrain - Sukiennice, Kraków
- 2001 - Maskarady / Masquarades, Inner Spaces, Poznań; Co widzi trupa wyszklona źrenica? - Academia Theatre, Warsaw; Zachęta National Gallery (2002); Dobro - Raster Gallery, Warsaw
- 2002 - Władza ludu / People's Power - Arsenal Gallery, Białystok; Moje życie - moja decyzja / My life - my decision - Norblin Factory, Warsaw; Seks, sztuka i kasety video / Sex, art and video tapes - Wyspa Progress Foundation, Gdańsk; Aktuelle Fotokunst aus Polen - Fotohof Gallery, Salzburg, Austria; Polska - Academia Gallery, Warsaw
- 2003 - Art in the City. AMS Outdoors Gallery 1998-2002 - Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw; Arsenał, Gallery, Poznań; BWA Awangarda, Wrocław; Boulogne, France (2004), Biały Mazur. Kuenstlerinnen aus Polen" - Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, Berlin
- 2005 - Dzień matki / Mother's Day - XX1 Gallery, Warsaw; Platan Gallery, Budapest; NECC, Kogart, Budapest
- 2006 - Władza ludu (II) / People's Power - Klima Bocheńska Gallery, Warsaw; Poland fighting - Galerie Christine Koenig , Vienna; WAWART - Artyści Warszawy / Warsaw Artists- Desa Modern, Warsaw
Illustrations courtesy of the artist.
|Agata i Magda; Wiktoria, Paulina i Dominika