Fotograf Magazine

Karol Radziszewski

The Gates of Queer Eden

Radziszewski’s art, in its multidisciplinary medley, is driven in its roots by a longing to carve out a space of diversity and queer beauty out of misery. Be it the secret queer meeting spots in communist Poland or the place for alternative narratives on history, it is constantly craving for a less miserable world.

On a Saturday afternoon, 1 August, the earsplitting sound of a siren echoes over the city of Warsaw. As I walk through a park, people stand up from the benches, stop chatting and take a quick break to pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who died in the Warsaw Uprising in the summer of 1944. Only a few kilometers away however, a commemorative march organized by a group of nationalists walks through the city center, passing by small groups showing their support for the repressed LGBTQ community. At one point, a man climbs up the scaffolding on which a rainbow flag with an uprising symbol is hanging, and tears it down. Within a few seconds, the flag is torn to pieces and burned up as the crowd cheers and applauds. At a time when it is officially sanctioned to use neofascist imagery on a march commemorating the antifascist uprising, but one can get arrested for hanging a rainbow flag on a public monument, Karol Radziszewski’s art seems more relevant than ever before.

One of Radziszewski’s works was also meant to commemorate the same uprising, although it never came to fruition. In 2009, the artist was invited to paint a mural on the wall by the Warsaw Uprising Museum. Radziszewski proposed a simple yet refined, black and white linear painting with a group of insurgents. On a sketch that never turned into a mural, the men are not shown amidst battle. They are washing their underwear, resting and sleeping. They are doing mundane stuff in spite of the situation being everything but mundane. Radziszewski simply ignored the official heroic imagery and turned it into an image of leisure with homoerotic overtones. The museum’s director decided, however, that the group of rebels as handsome, resting young men, bare chested more often than not, was far too erotic for his taste. The project was canceled.

With its form being more akin to that of a wallpaper than a mural, harking back to the openly homoerotic painting on the wall shown at Radziszewski’s early show Pedały (‘Fags’) in 2005, the piece undermined the stiff historical narrative. Radziszewski returned to the history of the uprising in 2015 painting a series of por- traits of August Agbola O’Brown, a Nigerian jazz musician living in Warsaw since 1922, and fighting in the uprising during the war. In Radziszewski’s paintings, O’Brown, called ‘Ali’, is portrayed in a Picassoesque manner, mirro- ring the formalist, colonial use of African art in pieces like ‘Les Demoiselles d’Avignon’, and using it to create the iconography of a Black hero without glorifying the war, but signifying its atrocity by a visual language close to ‘Guernica’.

Also reminiscent of Picasso’s paintings from the early Cubist period are the portraits from the ‘Poczet’ series–22 paintings aimed to assemble a quasi-genealogical tree of non-heteronormative figures from Polish history, from eleventh century kings to late twentieth century novelists. The idea hearkens back to Jan Matejko’s paintings from the early 1890s, a series of portraits of Polish kings and queens. Although a skillful painter, Matejko’s post-Delaroche historicism was quite dated even in his day. And after being reproduced thousands of times since, reproduced in every history book and hung on the walls of classrooms in almost every Polish school, those hieratic portraits look more like a collection of historical props, crowns, maces, ermines and mustaches than portraits of human beings. Radziszewski in turn gives his subjects flesh, attempting to undermine the prim and prudish historical narrative yet again. Whether anyone likes it or not, the artist shows that queer culture is not a margin of our history but a part of its very core.

Piotr Policht

 

KAROL RADZISZEWSKI is a Warsaw based visual artist, photographer, painter, curator, collector, and editor. He’s the founder of Queer Archives Institute and DIK Fagazine. Radziszewski’s works spans from single images to feature films, archives, and magazines. This entire myriad of media and approaches is rooted in the artist’s interest in surveying the latent queer history of Central Europe in the Soviet era and challenging established art historical narratives.

PIOTR POLICHT is an art critic and curator, editor of “Szum” magazine and visual arts editor at Culture.pl. He is based in Warsaw and Szczecin, Poland.

#37 Uneven ground

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