War and Peace


The war theme has been forever present in art – the countless scenes of victorious battles as theexegi monumentum have glorified the rulers and visualized their mightiness. The case has however been different with the works by Polish artists. As a result of the partitions and a lack of single ruler, our country has developed a special kind of historical painting: martyrological  Romanticism with messianic ambitions. Although the nineteenth century military-patriotic visual tradition is now perceived as anachronistic, is has become an integral part of “Polishness” and is an excellent material for contemporary reinterpretations.


The twentieth century brought us two great worldwide wars and countless conflicts in many countries. The trauma of the Holocaust could not fail to put its stigma also in the field of art. Artists, as if in response to Adorno’s famous question: “Is poetry possible after Auschwitz?”, signaled their impotence to speak about things which are unspeakable of. It was not until the next generation of artists, born after the war, that art was able to look at the history from a certain perspective and make an attempt to tame the trauma, creating the so-called post-memory art.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, a new revisionist military iconography is born in Poland – the artists are trying to work through the traditional notions of war, anot refraining from the reflections on the ways of depicting violence in contemporary media. Furthermore, remoteness from genuine armed conflict also allows one to perceive it from a distance, which facilitates analytical and critical look. At the same time, art, stemming from pacifistic assertions, expresses an almost obsessive fascination with violence. Objects of a military nature become perverse fetishes, and the figure of a soldier takes on erotic, or even homoerotic, characteristics. Artists move away from traumatic-patriotic narrative and begin to play games with tradition of the game, not avoiding humor or irony.

War is still present also in the mass media, turning us into unwilling witnesses to the numerous acts of terror and violence. The exhibition War and Peace thus deals with exceptionally up to date issues. The exhibited works present a rich spectrum of approaches expressing anxiety, obsession and fascination with war, and in a perverse way reflect the desire for peace. The antiwar, feminist standpoint is also present here – the opposition to the patriarchal cult of male power which reduces a woman to a role of sex object and a helpless victim.

War and Peace confronts diverse artistic approaches to the issues of violence and power – from the attempts of dealing with war trauma, through responses to contemporary threats and conflicts, to the fascination with visions and fantasies of romantic origin. The artists also play intertextual games with tradition, referring to iconic works of art and reinterpreting them. Some reach back directly to the subject of the Holocaust, while others focus on contemporary armed conflicts and their media transmission – everyone, though, juggles with the national archetypes and to provoke reflection. The vision of war in pop-cultural version often verges on the brink of kitsch, while the images of the suffering and trauma are substituted with war fetishes: guns, uniforms, a soldier’s body. Military equipment is transformed into “innocent” boys’ toys, situating war in the context of child’s play. Freeing the subject of war from unnecessary pathos allows us to face the problem not as a nation but as an individual.

Although modern ideas about war are saturated with visions of physical and symbolic violence, paradoxically, they are laced with the urge to break free from the terror of power. Can one talk about peace only in the context of war? Suddenly we realize how fleeting and ambiguous is this idea. War and Peace is the next step to understand it, as well as in-depth diagnosis of the directions of development of military and pacifist themes in Polish art of the twenty-first century.

(Agnieszka Cieślak)



Curatorial team: Magdalena Linkowska, Tomasz Kitliński, Paweł Leszkowicz