Polish Pavilion, 59th International Art Exhibition. La Biennale di Venezia
Re-enchanting the World by Wojciech Szymański and Joanna Warsza
Giardini della Biennale, Venezia
April 23 – November 27, 2022
For the first time in the over-120-year history of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, a Roma artist is representing a national pavilion. The project Re-enchanting the World, prepared specifically for the Polish Pavilion at the Biennale Arte 2022, is an attempt to find the place of the Roma community in European art history. The project, which consists of twelve large-format textiles installations, alludes to the famous ‘Hall of the Months’ fresco series from the Renaissance Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara, Italy, one of the most mysterious buildings in European architecture. The exhibition proposed by curators Wojciech Szymański and Joanna Warsza was the winner of a competition organized by Zachęta – National Gallery of Art.
Małgorzata Mirga-Tas is currently one of the most famous names in the Polish art world, and her international reputation is on the rise. This Polish-Roma artist and activist are representing Poland at the Biennale Arte 2022, challenging stereotypes, presenting an insightful, unprejudiced picture of the Roma community, and drawing attention to the role women have played in Romani history. Her works are created from pieces of fabric by, as she puts it, ‘throwing the material into the picture’. Her large-format collages often use pieces of the wardrobe of the subjects portrayed: fragments of skirts, scarves, or shirts, which become literal carriers of history.
The monumental installation which will fill the space of the Polish Pavilion consists of twelve large-format textiles drawing from the famous cycle of frescoes from the Renaissance Palazzo Schifanoia. The name of the villa in Ferrara, Italy, comes from the phrase “schivar la noia”, meaning ‘escape from boredom’. The paintings, which date back more than 500 years, depict Olympian gods, zodiac signs, and decals, as well as scenes from court life in Ferrara at the time. The symbols of the palace interior, as well as its layout and form, are the artist’s visual and ideological reference points. Each of the twelve fabrics presented in the Pavilion is divided into three horizontal sections.
The upper section depicts the history of Romani peregrinations across Europe, referencing the engravings of Lorraine printmaker Jacques Callot. Created in the seventeenth century, these engravings are full of anti-Roma stereotypes. The artist disenchants this painful narrative and draws on historical works to create her own large-scale collages, showing the rich world of the Romani past and mythology.
The middle section is an archive of Roma history, built from a female perspective. In recent years, Mirga-Tas has created a number of works dedicated to the important women in her life, making up the Herstories series. Portraits of representatives of the Roma community are complemented by symbols borrowed from tarot cards and zodiac signs from Palazzo Schifanoia. Combining images of real women with magic and astrology, she transforms them into symbolic guardians of fate, goddesses, and prophetesses.
The lower section consists of twelve paintings depicting contemporary everyday life in the artist’s home village in Poland, Czarna Góra, and the areas to which she is most closely connected – Podhale, in the south of Małopolska, and the multicultural Spisz. They mainly show women, their relationships, alliances, and shared activities.
The artist constructs her own version of the Renaissance palace interior in the Polish Pavilion; in reference to the title of this year’s Biennale Arte (The Milk of Dreams), she creates a magical world, a kind of temporary and interim shelter for the viewer – an asylum offering hope and respite. The ‘re-enchantment’ of the title, inspired by Silvia Federici’s book Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons (2018), is a non-violent process to change the world’s errant paths, lift the evil spell from the world, and help regain a sense of community and rebuild relationships with others.
Re-enchanting the World is based on the idea of transnationality, cyclicality, and the change of appropriated meanings, proposing a new narrative about the constant cultural migration of images and mutual influences between Roma, Polish and European cultures. The concept of the wandering of images comes from art historian Aby Warburg, who explained it as the life afterlife of images. Warburg was interested in the sudden appearance of certain images in a certain place and time after a long period of absence. Following this path, Małgorzata Mirga-Tas uses representations from Schifanoia but transforms key motifs in European art history by inserting representations of Polish-Roma culture and reversing the stereotypical narrative.