Mainly For Women, 7.01-11.07.2021, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, The USA

Mainly for Women,, 7.01-11.07.2021, guest contribution in Paulina Ołowska show. Curated by Ariella Wolens, SCAD Museum of Art, Savannah, The USA

Within her exploration of womanhood, Olowska brings the domestic act of playing hostess into the space of the gallery, inviting a group of women from the next generation of distinguished Polish artists to exhibit alongside her within the show. This collaborative act is definitive of Olowska’s practice and indicates that her focus on portraying multiple representations of women is not just a conceptual preoccupation, but an active and performative aspect of her work. In the words of writer Jan Verwoert, “The house Olowska is building in her work is not a place of imaginary returns, but a site for gathering sister spirits.” The artists whom Olowska has invited to exhibit alongside her — Karolina Jabłońska, Dominika Olszowy, Agata Słowak, and Natalia Załuska — offer a dynamic range of female perspectives, creating an alchemical exchange of artistic approaches that reflects Olowska’s focus on creating a complex and multifaceted vision of femininity. The group presentation, which takes on an almost mythic, séance-like quality, transforms the visuals created by these artists into an exposition of ideas.

The exhibition’s title, Mainly for Women, takes its name from a 1960s “guide to love making” written by Robert Chartham, a pseudonym used by author Ronald Sydney Seth when he published under the guise of a sexologist. In the work, Chartham seeks to enlighten women on how to avoid harming their husbands’ sexual self-respect while providing a biological play-by-play of the coital act, strictly to be enacted by a husband and wife only. This patriarchal bestowal of information is irreverently subverted by Olowska, who reclaims Chartham’s title for her own purpose: to give name to a show of women artists who speak for themselves. Olowska’s action of creating a female community suggests a valuing of subjectivities in which she and her fellow women artists are autonomous in determining their own image.

In their practices, Olowska, Jabłońska, Olszowy, Słowak, and Załuska use art as an imagistic vehicle through which to grapple with the history and contemporary status of women in society. They contend with issues of female labor, patriarchal constructs of a woman’s role, and visual manifestations of female interiority, through which the viewer encounters allusions to both the subjugation and apotheosis of women, with many of the featured works drawing from imagery related to pagan mythological narratives. Through the distinct perspectives of formalism, portraiture, appropriation, and narrative painting, the artists use their work to disrupt our understanding of womanhood. Their erotic imagery, depictions of female agency, and labored methods of painterly execution are markers of how these women seek an uncompromised position of gender parity within art and society. With the recent attempt by Poland’s constitutional court to impose a near-total ban on abortions — including in instances of rape and incest — this exhibition speaks with a sense of urgency for the dire need to insert female autonomy into biopolitics and society at large. In its presentation in the U.S., the exhibition holds a mirror to the country’s own reckoning with women’s rights.