© Kinga Michalska, Bee and Lee from the Diary series, 2012-2018
Project Space Bermondsey presented the first ever queer Polish photography exhibition, Queer Gaze from Poland: A portrait of Love and Desire, which was on display between 22-25 May.
The exhibition, curated by Grażyna Siedlecka and featuring works by young Lgbtq+ artists of Polish origin such as Krystian Lipiec, Kinga Michalska, Mateusz Grzelak, Oiko Petersen, Natalia Podgórska, Mateusz Cyrankowski, Agata Kalinowska, Jerzy Piątek, Łukasz Rusznica, Pamela Bożek , aims to communicate the stories of queer friends and lovers in Poland.
The works are not intended to be shown in Poland as a political statement: despite homosexuality being legal in Poland, Lgbtq+ community face day-to-day discrimination by Catholic Church and the majority of politicians.
As curator Graźyna Siedlecka explains, ‘Polish society is really traditional and a big part of this is the far right government, which pushes national patriotic and Catholic feelings onto our country. 90 per cent of politics are against queerness: there’s no chance of allowing gay or lesbian couples to get married or adopt children. We’re not ready yet’.
Reflecting on this oppressive society, Kinga Michalska says: ‘Things are so bad and I don’t know where to start’. Through her project Diary, she documents the reality of her chosen family in Montreal, where she moved in search of a fresh sense of community and belonging.
© Kinga Michalska, from the Diary series, 2012-2018
Primarily drawing on vernacular photography and 90s snapshot aesthetic, Kinga points out that ‘[she] wants [her] photographs to feel empowering for people who [she] represents’ by echoing family archives and home videos.
Next, Mateusz Grzelak‘s intimate snapshots are part of a greater project depicting his Ukrainan boyfriend Vlad. After moving to Poland at 17 to pursue his studies, Vlad started experiencing bullying by his family which did not embrace his sexual orientation.
© Mateusz Grzelak from the Vlad series, 2017
The project then focuses on capturing the inner struggle of Vlad, torn between the pressure of his conservative family and the need to express his emotional needs and gender identity.
‘Being young, Polish and queer means you can be bullied on the streets when you walk down with your boyfriend, or on the internet when you publish queer art. Queer in Poland means being different, part of an unwanted minority. But people who want change give me hope for the future- whether they express themselves via photography, art, music, standing in front of parliament screaming about your rights, or simply by posting on Facebook. Love to me is a deep feeling, it’s about being yourself with your better half, it’s about trust and, of course, it’s about experiencing desire and passion, Mateusz explains.
© Mateusz Grzelak from the Vlad series, 2017
Using an instant camera, Mateusz Cyrankowski explores the expectations of masculinity and the impact of socio-cultural contexts on the individual by weaving a narrative on his encounters with guys via dating apps and clubs.
The works selected for the show, as he recalled, ‘will include a sequence with only one model who I decided to additionally mark with lines like those of butchers’ schemes’.
© Mateusz Cyrankowski from the Untitled series, 2012-2015
On visibility and recognition of queer people in the Polish art industry, he says:
It feels to me that it’s not a good time to show queer projects in Poland. It is difficult say whether any art gallery really, without fear of losing financing, vandalism or harassment, would decide to put up anything that aroused controversy, because the area of the art has already been absorbed by politics’.
To conclude, Jerzy Piątek seeks to generate a dialogue on the controversial relationship between nature and human civilisation. In the work selected for the exhibition Queer Gaze from Poland, he uses the male body in a metaphorical way: ‘the man acts as a symbol of homosexuality, perceived by society as something that is uncontrollable and spreads like a seed’.
Conversely, as the photographer highlights, ‘a body is an affirmation of life, it fits perfectly with the world of plants; they complement each other’.
© Jerzy Piatek Untitled, 2017
On the effect of Catholic religion on Lgbtq+ Polish community, he declares:
‘My identity was formed in a very fluid and natural way. From the beginning, I understood my sexual needs and didn’t find them strange. When I was a teenager I started to discover the exciting and mysterious world of my desires. Unfortunately, thanks to the Catholic religion, I realised quite quickly that I’m different and at this point, my natural way of maturation was brutally interrupted and an internal conflict appeared- conflict and great suffering, which kids should never go through’.
The exhibition beautifully evokes what it means to be young and queer in Poland in 2018 by underscoring themes of love, desire and intimacy.
© Krystian Lipiec from the Between Us series, 2012
© Natalia Podgorska Daniela and Santiago in Maryle, 2017
© Pamela Bożek Ways to get pregnant, 2014
© Oiko Petersen Markus at a Großer Alpsee, 2016