08 March 2023
‘… she was a foolish young woman who never realised the nature of her error,’ said Derek Freeman of Margaret Mead. Mead, an advocate of abortion rights and no-fault divorce, was one of many early women anthropologists who suffered from androcentric bias. While Ruth Benedict claimed that the purpose of anthropology is ‘to make the world safe for human difference,’ women faced various obstacles and discrimination and yet still played a crucial part in the formative years of cultural anthropology.
Even if some scholars such as Edward B. Tylor advocated for women to be included in the discipline, a woman, particularly professionally educated, was a rare breed in early ethnology and anthropology studies. We have heard of Mead or Benedict, both well-established figures in Western scientific circles. However, anthropologists and ethnologists from Eastern Europe whose work is important for humanities barely register in public consciousness.
Photograph of Julia Averkieva from Julia Averkieva and Mark A. Sherman’s Kwakiutl String Figures (Vancouver, 1992) YA.1993.b.7126.
Outside of specialist circles, it is unusual to hear about Julia Averkieva, a Soviet student of Franz Boas, or Branislava Sušnik, a Slovenian-Paraguayan anthropologist who has a street named after her in Asunción and a stamp issued by the Paraguayan Post with her portrait on it.
Photograph of Branislava Sušnik from Branislava Sušnik’s Artesanía indígena: ensayo analítico (Asunción, 1986) YA.1992.a.22026.
Equally, women ethnographers, such as the Czech Teréza Nováková, who had to publish her findings in a journal called Housewife (Czech: Domací hospodyně), are rarely celebrated. Nováková was not only a collector of patterns, embroidery, and ceramics, but also a passionate feminist fighting for women’s rights.
Illustration from Teréza Nováková’s, Kroj lidový národní vyšivání na Litomyšlsku (Olomouci, 1890) 7705.h.28.
One of the rare exceptions who managed to establish herself in the Western-oriented discipline was Maria Czaplicka. This Polish-born, British-educated anthropologist registered on the Western-centered academic radar and, to a lesser extent, in the British public awareness.
Portrait of Maria Czaplicka from her book My Siberian Year (London, 1916) 010076.ee.2.
Czaplicka passed her A-levels in partitioned Poland at a male school, as matura (A-levels) from a girls’ school would not allow her to continue to higher education. When, as the first woman in the history of the programme, she was awarded the Mianowski Scholarship, she could finally afford to study abroad at the London School of Economics and Political Science and later at Oxford. After her very successful Yenisei expedition, described in detail in the diary My Siberian Year, she became the first female lecturer in anthropology at Oxford University. Unfortunately, she had to give up this position when an academic whom she was replacing came back from the First World War. Czaplicka actively supported suffrage and combated anti-Polish propaganda present in the British press. After assisting Franz Boas in the United States, she moved to a new position at Bristol University. However, her career in a male-dominated academic field started to decline, and in 1921, after failing to secure funding that would allow her to pay her debts, the anthropologist committed suicide.
Czaplicka was one of the trailblazing female academics. Unfortunately, as in the case of many of her female colleagues, her gender and marital status played a role in the way she and her work were perceived. She had to deal with issues her male colleagues in the same discipline never encountered – gender was a stumbling block to a successful future in the field of academia. Even the fact that Czaplicka travelled during her expedition in the company of a man was frowned upon. Women doing fieldwork were perceived with a certain suspicion. In My Siberian Year, Maria recalls: ‘This reminds me…of ingenious conjectures put forward by certain Sibiriaks to account for the appearance of three foreign women in the remote region of their country. One thought we were traders; another said "Spies!"; a third added fresh terrors to the disagreeable possibilities suggested by the first two explanations – we were suffragettes, banished to Siberia by the British Government, through a special arrangement with the Tsar.’
Czaplicka, who herself could proudly wear a ‘suffragette’ badge, is one of the heroines of an exhibition currently on show at The National Ethnographic Museum in Warsaw. "Women Ethnographers, Anthropologists, and Professors" aims to change the focus from history to herstory. The curator's talk is available here.
Illustration from Maria Czaplicka’s My Siberian Year (London, 1916) 010076.ee.2. The original caption states ‘The author riding Dolgan fashion with a riding stick’. The presence of two, probably Dolgan, women who are in the picture is not mentioned. Except for her closest European travel companions and a ‘man-servant’, the subjects of Czaplicka’s photo remain nameless, identifiable only by their ethnicity. Such an approach, symptomatic of the early anthropology era, clearly demonstrates the imbalanced scientist-native power dynamic.
Despite facing many obstacles, in due course, women managed to put their stamp on ethnography, ethnology, cultural anthropology, and various fields in science. Czaplicka, Sušnik, Nováková, and their numerous counterparts in Western anthropology took a stand, firmly believing in their own abilities, and forwarded women’s cause. It is indisputable that we should re-evaluate their body of work, taking into consideration today's system of values. Pioneering women in anthropology were a part of the same system as their male colleagues, the system that enabled colonial attitudes that allowed empires to persist and thrive. However, this does not mean that we should not give credit where it is overdue. In the words of French anthropologist Françoise Héritier, ‘indeed, you must never take things as established; you must ask about their basis.’
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
15 February 2023
In November 2022 one of the main Polish newspapers, Gazeta Wyborcza, published a list of ten best books of the past year chosen by their journalists. In a country where simply coming out as a member of the LGBTQ+ community can be a radical act, number four on the list went to a thick tome presenting 79 autobiographical stories of queer persons living in Poland. The book was a result of a contest organised by the Institute of Applied Social Sciences of the University of Warsaw.
Front cover of Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie (Kraków 2022; awaiting shelfmark)
Titled Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie (‘All the strength I muster to live’), the anthology is a grim but necessary read. In the words of Polish writer Renata Lis, the compilation is an indictment against Poland for violence and humiliation suffered by members of the queer community.
A page from m.a.c.’s diary in Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie featuring a quote from a Polish Romantic poet C.K. Norwid: “Polishness is a bitter bread”.
“When I was sixteen, I was not afraid of walking the streets of Warsaw holding hands with my girlfriend. I would proudly go to parades waving a flag that for me and many others became a symbol of our freedom. … Today they burn our flags and turn us into animals. These are the same people I shared a desk with at history lessons and learned about concentration camps” writes ‘Alekto’.
The title of the collection is taken from Paweł Bednarek’s story. ‘All the strength I muster to live has always come from within me,’ Paweł states, reflecting on his youth. The diaries testify to oppression, but also show extraordinary resilience of people who had to fight against prejudice on a daily basis.
A page from one of diaries featured in Cała siła jaką czerpię na życie
This tenacity and desire to express an identity without complying with suffocating constrictions of societal judgment, to show yourself for who you are, is equally evident in stories of Polish drag queens and kings. Jakub Wojtaszczyk paints a fascinating and colourful picture of Polish drag scene in Cudowne przegięcie. Reportaż o polskim dragu (‘Wonderful Campness: a Reportage on Polish Drag’). The journalist, who himself identifies as non-heteronormative, sketches sensitive and dynamic portraits of characters who proudly walk or dance through life’s stage.
Cover of Cudowne przegięcie. Reportaż o polskim dragu (Kraków 2022; awaiting shelfmark) featuring a photo of Twoja Stara by Krystian Lipiec. ‘Twoja Stara’ (Your Old Lady) is a drag name of Piotr Buśko.
The haunting and sometimes beautiful experience of queer memory of Central and Eastern Europe is also explored by a Polish artist Karol Radziszewski as shown in The Power of Secrets. The book is a montage of fictional and archival materials formulating “new ways of understanding history, memory, or legislation”. Radziszewski employs various strategies to reconstruct cis-gendered mainstream narrative by interrogating and contesting its heteronormativity.
Cover of The Power of Secrets. Karol Radiszewski (Warsaw, 2021) m22/.10361.
The creator’s projects such as Poczet (the word means a gallery or succession of rulers) question the representation of historical and contemporary figures of prominence – writers, artists, musicians, academics – in Polish culture. By using a traditional medium of painting Radziszewski challenges a conventional assumption of what Poczet should be. The term is most often associated with a pompous representation of people in power, aimed at establishing a symbolical continuity of dynasties and legitimising rulers. Such legitimisation was usually done in European tradition by means of dynastical, heterosexual marriages. Poczet substitutes the grandeur of royalty with cultural icons whose lives, by today’s standards, we would consider non-heteronormative such as Maria Komornicka, Karol Szymanowski, Józef Czapski, Jan Lechoń, Witold Gombrowicz, Jerzy Andrzejewski or Maria Janion. Poczet found its permanent home at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw.
Images from Poczet series by Karol Radiszewski in The Power of Secrets.
The Power of Secrets is a potent project that reveals as much about the Queer Archive Institute’s creator as about the cultural background that the Polish queer community comes from. The very background that can motivate one to transgress outdated social expectations in order to freely express yourself or cut your wings.
Olga Topol, Curator East European Collections
03 February 2023
Dulwich Picture Gallery is currently holding an exhibition of the works of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, the best known Lithuanian artist and composer. Over a hundred works are on loan from the M.K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art in Kaunas where most of the artist’s work is held. The exhibition venue itself has historical links with Poland and Lithuania. In 1790 Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, commissioned two art dealers to create a Royal Collection. By the time the task was completed, Poland had undergone three partitions and finally ceased to exist as a sovereign state. Stanisław August was forced to abdicate. As the British Museum’s trustees were considered to be “too arbitrary and aristocratic”, the collection was left to Dulwich College, on condition that it was made available to the public. What was supposed to be the Stanisław August Poniatowski’s Royal Collection became an important part of the collections of Dulwich Picture Gallery, the oldest public gallery in England.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, 1905. Photograph by Stanisław Filibert Fleury. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis was born in 1875 in the small Lithuanian town of Varėna, the eldest of nine children of a church organist. When he was three years old, the family moved to Druskininkai, a resort on the Nemunas river. Čiurlionis was a child prodigy, a pianist by the age of five and organist by the age of six. His talent came to the attention of Prince Michał Ogiński who became the boy’s patron. Čiurlionis moved to Plungė near Klaipėda where, between the ages of 13-16, he attended an orchestral school on the estate of Prince Ogiński. There he learnt to play several other instruments and also sang in the choir.
In later years Ogiński’s patronage enabled Čiurlionis to study piano and composition at the Institute of Music in Warsaw (1894-1899). Čiurlionis also studied harmony, the theory and history of music, natural sciences, astronomy, philosophy, numismatics and mineralogy. Later his studies took him to the Leipzig Conservatoire (1901-1902). He also attended lectures on aesthetics and other subjects at the University of Leipzig, until the death of his patron forced him to abandon his musical studies. Čiurlionis returned to Warsaw and devoted his life to art: he enrolled at the Warsaw School of Drawing and later the School of Fine Arts, supporting himself by giving private lessons. He never abandoned his music – he both painted and composed. During six very intense years (1903-1909) Čiurlionis created 400 musical pieces and 300 works of art. In 1911, diagnosed with severe exhaustion and struggling with his mental health, he was admitted to a sanatorium near Warsaw where he died of pneumonia at the age of 35.
M.K. Čiurlionis, The Family House in Druskininkai, 1905. Pencil on paper. Reproduced in Laima Marija Petruševičiūtė, Melancholy and Sun: Munch and Čiurlionis (Vilnius, 2010) LF.31.b.8488
Čiurlionis is a hugely important figure in Lithuanian culture and national consciousness. Not only is his work steeped in Lithuanian mythology and folklore; the artist, who declared his intention to “dedicate to Lithuania” all of his “past and future work”, was actively involved in the Lithuanian national movement and cultural life. In 1906 he returned to Vilnius and helped to organise, and participated in, the first three exhibitions of Lithuanian art. He was also a co-founder and board member of the Lithuanian Artists Union.
The influential Russian art critic Alexandre Benois called Čiurlionis “a genius cursed by fate, one of those true geniuses, mythmakers, who create works of sublime, ineffable meaning”. The artist’s originality has earned him a unique place in the history of art. Even though his direct contact with Western European art was limited, he is linked to symbolism, art nouveau, neo-Romanticism and abstract art. To the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, who knew Čiurlionis , he was the first surrealist artist. Čiurlionis was also an innovative composer who used polyphony, modern chords and musical arabesques, and created a series of compositions and open musical forms. Igor Stravinsky, who owned one of Čiurlionis’ paintings, described him as “possibly the most talented member of the Russian School at the beginning of this century”.
Čiurlionis’ art, rich in symbols, has an otherworldly, poetic quality. His art is strongly influenced by Lithuanian landscapes, mythology and folklore. His works are full of natural images like birds, the sun, trees, mountains, grass snakes. In the artist’s early, symbolic works, such natural forms often appear in the form of a human or animal. Most of Čiurlionis‘ paintings are based on dichotomies: light and darkness, morning and evening, life and death, vertical and horizontal.
M.K. Čiurlionis, The Mountain, 1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, The Sun, 1907. Pastel on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Lithuanian Graveyard, 1909. Tempera on cardboard. Image from Wikimedia Commons
The dreamlike landscapes reflect Čiurlionis’ interest in Eastern philosophy and theosophy. A recurring theme is the figure of Rex – a mythical, benevolent figure of a godlike monarch, omnipotent creator and protector, reflecting the idea of the unity of the Earth and Universe and signifying protection and care.
M.K. Čiurlionis, Rex, 1909. Tempera on canvas. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Fairy Tale (Fairy Tale of the Kings), 1909. Tempera on canvas. Image from Wikimedia Commons
The artist’s deep interest in the relationship between man and the universe is seen, among others, in his cycle of 13 paintings Creation of the World (1905/1906). Čiurlionis wrote that, “This is the Creation of the World, not of our world according to the Bible, but another, fantastical world.”
M.K. Čiurlionis, Creation of the World V, 1905/1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Creation of the World IX, 1905/1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
Čiurlionis is considered by some art critics as a pioneer of abstract art. According to the Estonian art critic Aleksis Rannit “Čiurlionis is the first abstract painter and yet few knew it... Kandinsky... only painted his first abstract work in 1911. But already in 1904, Čiurlionis gave the world a body of work that we must class as abstract, of semi-abstract painting”. Rannit’s statement started a discussion among art critics as well as a row with Kandinsky’s widow, who claimed that her husband had never seen Čiurlionis’ paintings and therefore could not have been inspired by them.
M.K. Čiurlionis, Sparks III, 1906. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Winter IV, 1907. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, My Road II, 1907. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
There is a close link between Čiurlionis’ music and his art. His synaesthesia enabled him to see sound in colours and images; he imagined “the whole world as a great symphony”. His paintings often have musical titles, like prelude, scherzo, andante, allegro, finale. Applying the principles of musical composition to painting, the artist created seven sonata cycles. Although other artists at the time also explored the idea of fusion of music and art, trying to “paint music”, Čiurlionis was more interested in the structure of the painting reflecting the structure of musical composition. He painted repetitions of motifs, his lines followed a melodic rhythm, creating harmonies with colours.
M.K. Čiurlionis, Sonata No. 6 (Sonata of the Stars), Allegro, 1908. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Sonata No. 7 (Sonata of the Pyramids), Allegro, 1909. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
M.K. Čiurlionis, Angel (Angel Prelude), 1909. Tempera on paper. Image from Wikimedia Commons
As an artist, for many years Čiurlionis did not achieve the recognition he deserved. His work was ahead of his time yet he remained on the fringes of Western art, in part because he lived away from Europe’s main artistic centres, on the fringes of what was then the Russian Empire. There were several occasions, however, when he came close to gaining an important place in the history of art. In 1908, during his stay in St Petersburg, Čiurlionis developed close links with the members of the Mir isskustva (World of Art) movement, especially Alexandre Benois, but unfortunately soon afterwards the artist’s health deteriorated. Another missed opportunity was the invitation in 1910 to take part in an exhibition held by Neue Künstlervereinigung München. The invitation came too late: Čiurlionis was already seriously ill. At the beginning of the First World War most of Čiurlionis’ works were moved to Moscow. The upheaval caused by the War and later by the Russian Revolution meant that planned critical works on Čiurlionis did not appear. In 1919 Čiurlionis’ works were returned to Lithuania. After a brief period of independence, the Second World War II and annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union followed. Čiurlionis’ works were not exhibited until the 1950s.
The 1960s saw a renewed interest in Čiurlionis in the Soviet Union but the modernist aspects of his art were often ignored. Until the restoration of Lithuanian independence, Čiurlionis’ original artwork wasn’t easily accessible to foreign art historians which excluded him from foreign art histories. His works rarely left Lithuania, partly for ideological reasons and partly because they are fragile (most of his works are tempera or pastels on paper or card as the artist could not afford oil paints or canvasses). However, there has been an increase in international interest in Čiurlionis in the last 20 or so years. His works have been exhibited in cities such as Paris, Bonn, Tokyo, Milan, and Helsinki. It was high time they came to London too.
Ela Kucharska-Beard, Curator Baltic Collections
References and further reading:
Kathleen Soriano, M.K. Čiurlionis: between worlds (London, 2022)
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: album; preface by Rasutė Andriušytė- Žukienė (Kaunas, 2007) LD.31.b.1395
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911): jo laikas ir musų laikas = His time and our time (Vilnius, 2013) EMF.2015.a.81
Laima Marija Petruševičiūtė, Melancholy and Sun: Munch and Čiurlionis (Vilnius, 2010) LF.31.b.8488
Rasa Andriušytė- Žukienė, M.K. Čiurlionis: tarp simbolizmo ir modernizmo (Vilnius, 2004) YF.2007.a.10706
Vytautas Landsbergis, Visas Čiurlionis (Vilnius, 2008) YF.2009.a.8557
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: twórczość, osobowość, środowisko (Warsaw, 2001) YF.2004.b.618
Antanas Andrijauskas, ‘Musical paintings of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis and Modernism’, Music in Art, Vol. 37, No. 1/ 2 (Spring –Fall 2012), pp. 249-264. 5990.227850
Genovaitė Kazokas, Musical paintings: life and work of M.K. Čiurlionis (1875-1911) (Vilnius, 2009) YD.2010.a.2999
30 December 2022
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
28 November 2022
‘November is a difficult time for Poland’ Stanisław Wyspiański wrote in his play Noc listopadowa (November Night). Wyspiański, was a versatile and prolific artist – playwright, poet and theatre director – one of the generations of artists who grew up in the partitioned land.
Cover of Stanisław Wyspiański, Noc listopadowa. Sceny dramatyczne (Kraków 1904). Shelfmark: X.909/354.
The 11th month of the year – listopad, literally leaf-fall – is a time of particular significance in Polish culture and history. The month of the fallen leaves witnessed the November Uprising or the Cadet Revolution (1830–31) against the Russian Empire when Poland was partitioned. It was in November when finally, after 123 years, Poland regained its independence following the First World War.
There is something fascinating about the approaching darkness and nature’s hibernation that appealed to Polish imagination and Wyspiański could definitely feel the ambiguous allure of the cold month. In November 1901 Wyspiański lost his father Franciszek, a renowned sculptor and an alcoholic struggling with mental issues. Stanisław was only too familiar with death from his early years. As a child he lost a younger brother and soon after, when the boy was only seven, his mother succumbed to tuberculosis. His own struggle with a deadly disease – he suffered from syphilis – is thought to have played a substantial role in his artistic proliferation. After the diagnosis Wyspiański worked tirelessly until his death. He was burning through life with an exhaustive energy, with a constant awareness of its finality, with gusto characteristic for the Young Poland modernist era, flavoured with Nietzscheanism.
The artist’s life was marked by emotional and complicated relationships with women. His mother and an aunt who brought him up both had a profound impact on his life. While living with his aunt Stanisław came in contact with Jan Matejko, one of the most celebrated Polish painters, who gave him art lessons and later invited the young man to work for him. Last, but not least in a long line of Wyspiański’s women, was Teodora Pytko, a servant whom he married causing a stir in Krakow’s social circle and a fallout with the aunt.
Jan Matejko, Polonia, 1864, National Museum in Kraków.
Wyspiański’s childhood was spent in the Austrian partition. His father studio sat a few feet away from the Wawel Royal Castle in Kraków, a symbol of the Polish grandiose past. The imposing structure, in a state of disrepair, full of memories evoking melancholy, was a former seat of the Polish kings degraded to serve as a barracks for Austro-Hungarian troops. This is how Stanisław describes it in one of his lyrics:
At the foot of Wawel my father’s atelier was placed.
A great white vaulted chamber,
Animated by a crowd of images of the dead;
There, as a little boy I wandered, and what I felt,
Later I forged in the shapes of my art.
At the time, by emotion only, and not rational understanding,
I grasped the outlines, moulded in clay,
Which grew before my eyes into giants:
Statues, carved in lime wood.
From Stanisław Wyspiański, Acropolis: the Wawel plays; translated from the Polish and introduced by Charles S. Kraszewski, (London 2017). YC.2019.a.2648
Wyspiański grew up dreaming of becoming one of the artists chosen to restore the Royal Castle to its former glory. A dream that despite many efforts has never come to fruition. The painter’s stained-glass designs, meant for the Wawel Cathedral, were rejected by the church authorities. Wyspiański’s thought-provoking depiction of Saint Stanislaus, a national hero, crushed by his coffin alluded to the playwright’s conviction the saint’s cult was partly responsible for Poland’s downfall.
Unrealised stained-glass design for the chancel of Wawel Cathedral, 1900: Prince Henry the Pious, National Museum in Kraków, in Young Poland: the Polish Arts and Crafts movement, 1890-1918, edited by Julia Griffin and Andrzej Szczerski (London 2020). YC.2022.b.346
A childhood spent in a place where walls permeated history, gazing at the striking stronghold, wandering around Kraków’s Main Market Square surrounded by the city hustle and bustle resulted in a deep love and attachment to his home town and played an immense part in the artist’s journey. Four of the playwright’s dramatic works deal with Wawel: Legenda II, Bolesław Śmiały, Skałka and Akropolis.
Wyspiański’s stage costume designs. Stanisław Wyspiański, Stanisław Wyspiański, myśli i obrazy (Olszanica, 2008). YF.2009.b.2095
Charles S. Kraszewski in the introduction to his English translation of the artist’s works remarks: ‘Wyspiański introduces his “eternal” characters neither from the pages of Christian hagiography, nor from the theories of psychoanalysis, but rather from the traditions of Polish/Cracovian legend, as a way of understanding what it means to be “Polish” in Europe where the country that bears the name no longer exists’.
Model based on Stanisław Wyspiański and Władysław Ekielski’s ‘Acropolis’ design for the renovation and expansion of Wawel, 1907. National Museum in Kraków, in Young Poland, YC.2022.b.346
Wyspiański’s works were a reflection of his identity. Myths, legends and symbols infuse his plays, scenography, paintings and drawings. A Renaissance man, Wyspiański excelled in many forms of art. He was a visionary who made his mark on Polish theatre, poetry, typography, applied art, design and painting. He passed away prematurely, departing together with the autumn leaves on 28 November 1907.
Stanisław Wyspiański, Morning at the Foot of Wawel Hill, 1984. National Museum in Kraków
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
Stanislaw Wyspiański, The wedding: a drama in three acts (London 1998). ELD.DS.551705
Stanislaw Wyspiański, The Return of Odysseus. A Drama in three acts (Bloomington 1966). Shelfmark: Ac.2692.w/16.
Stanisław Wyspiański - Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis: the neighbouring of cultures, the borderlines of arts, editor-in-chief Wiesna Mond-Kozłowska (Kraków 2012), EMD.2017.b.6
03 November 2022
Call for PhD project partners: ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’
The British Library is pleased to invite applications from HEI partners to co-supervise the AHRC PhD project ‘Postcolonial Discourse in East European Studies and its Application to British Library Collections’.
Slavonic and Eastern European collections at the British Library are one of its strengths. Developed since the mid‐19th century, the collections are broad and diverse, including a wide range of materials in Slavonic languages and originating in countries referred to as Eastern Europe and Eurasia. However, despite the diversity of the collections, marginalised voices and the complexities of relations between the cultures are not easily visible through the collections’ structures and descriptions. The British Library co‐supervisors have identified postcolonial research and its application to curatorial practices as a priority approach to these collections, likely to reveal many meaningful gaps and contested interpretations. The team of curators are looking to engage with an HEI partner on a project that can be beneficial for the entire collection area and therefore offer an opportunity for wide interpretation of this CDP.
The purpose of this CDP project is first to advance postcolonial and decolonisation work in the above area studies and then to apply this to the British Library’s collections in the form of policy, review and/or recommendations. Focusing on the Belarusian, Polish, Russian and/or Ukrainian collections, the study will therefore provide the foundation for a new understanding of decolonising practices in the context of Eastern Europe, as well as the Library’s policy on collecting, curating and interpreting the collections.
Cover of Taras Shevchenko, Dumky ta pisni Kobzaria (Kyiv, 1905). The book, part of a series, was issued by Kievskaia starina, a monthly magazine for Ukrainian studies. Originally published in Russian, the magazine was renamed Ukraïna in 1907 and appeared in Ukrainian. Here, the title of the book is written in Ukrainian in Russian orthography.
The collections under investigations can be taken holistically using an Area Studies approach; on a country or regional level; thematically (e.g., as a comparative study of colonial and imperial approaches and practices within Eastern Europe); or focus on ethnic, national or transnational groups (e.g., material produced in minority and minoritised languages and communities). The approaches can also vary from concentrating on theoretical issues and building a theoretical framework, creating comparative analysis or conducting case studies. The potential focus and research questions will be refined and developed with the HEI partner and (once recruited) the student.
Research questions can include (but are not limited to) the following:
- What are the major theoretical problems with the application and adaptation of postcolonial theory to East European postcolonial studies and decolonisation practices? What are common or specific features of postcolonial discourse in East European Studies and how should they be taken into account in interpretation, description and development of collections?
- How can book and print history, and/or the history of collecting be analysed within the postcolonial discourse?
- Is there a need, necessity and/or obligation for the Library to engage with Diasporas, national or transnational communities in the UK and in the countries of origin? What methodological approaches should be applied?
By examining the collections through a critical, historical lens and identifying points of contestation in interpretation, potential outcomes of the project could include:
- highlighting the ‘hidden’ collections and gaps in materials printed in minority languages, by oppressed groups and nationalist movements, as well as materials that represent the complex identities of authors and producers across the present political borders between the countries;
- suggesting the most appropriate language and vocabulary for the purpose of collection discovery and interpretation;
- contributing to decolonising metadata for the British Library’s records;
- suggesting means of communicating and promoting the outcomes of the review.
The placement provides an opportunity to work on a project that will deliver a practical output by improving discovery and accessibility of one of the largest heritage collections in the world, including for the communities who create and are represented in the collections. It also offers an opportunity to develop cultural diplomacy skills by liaising with organisations with varied governance practices and cultural backgrounds, for example: the Ukrainian Institute London, various Polish cultural organisations (e.g. the Pilsudski Institute), COSEELIS, Pushkin House etc.
Based within the Library's European, Americas and Oceania Collections team, the student will have access to advice and support from across this team, and work closely with a smaller team of East European curators. Depending on the student’s interests and project needs there will be opportunities to learn about other roles and activities within the Library (e.g., metadata, cataloguing teams, events, etc). The student will also have access to the Library’s extensive training programmes.
The deadline for applications is Friday 25 November 2022, 5pm. For more information on the project and how to apply, see the Library website.
Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections, Olga Topol and Katie McElvanney, Curators East European Collections
11 July 2022
As part of the events programme accompanying our current exhibition 'Breaking the News' curators from the European, Americas and Oceania Collections department took part in an online 'Meet the Curators' event to introduce some stories about news media in the countries they cover. This blog post is based on one of the talks given at that event.
Living in 1980s Poland meant being surrounded by a graphic persuasiveness of visual communist propaganda. However, in this forest of policy-inspired art and slogans a perceptive passer-by could notice discrepancies: a leaflet handed over discreetly, posters popping up mysteriously during the night, often offering the familiar red discomfort of the favourite communist colour, but conveying a rebellious message. If you were curious and brave enough to risk your own comfort, and sometimes life, you could have access to a clandestine news network which functioned as an alternative to the official one-sided narrative of the communist government. A lot of these samizdat productions were prepared by members of Solidarity.
This organisation started as a trade union in the then Polish People’s Republic and evolved into a broad anti-authoritarian social movement that helped to build the foundations for overthrowing communist rule in Eastern Europe by means of civil resistance. One of the goals for Solidarity’s members was raising the nation’s civil awareness by fighting censorship and providing access to independent media.
A poster advertising the University of Poznań Solidarity journal Serwis Informacyjny Komisji Zakładowej NSZZ «Solidarność» przy UAM w Poznaniu. Sol. 764
This advertisement for the Solidarity journal edited by the students of Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan is the perfect example of such civil resistance. The image of a man sitting on a clearly useless TV set reading the Solidarity magazine was self-explanatory to Polish citizens of the era. At the time television had only two channels and the state-owned broadcaster was a mouthpiece for the communist government. All news was meticulously censored before release and had to be approved by the General Office for Control of Publications and Spectacles. The agency’s main role was to suppress the freedom of news and free speech.
The relentless efforts of censors resulted in a backlash. Grassroots movements started spreading information coming to Poland from abroad and disseminating true stories of what was going on in and outside of the country. Samizdat books and the so-called ‘second circulation’ of illegally printed press flourished. Spreading pro-democracy news was dangerous and could result in imprisonment and torture – just like in today’s Belarus. Nonetheless, the oppressive situation only fuelled samizdat’s spread. Pamphlets such as this instruction manual made mockery of the government’s efforts to stop the circulation of independent news.
Przemiennik częstotliwości: z RWE na co dzień ('An RF radio frequency converter: for your daily dose of Radio Free Europe'; Warsaw, 1984), Sol. 215x
The manual teaches how to build your own radio frequency converter to listen to Radio Free Europe, as the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries were jamming Western radio broadcasts. In a foreword to the manual the author criticizes the West for not doing enough to support pro-democracy movements and a lack of technological investment that could counter Soviet efforts to block news. However, it is the author’s opinion on wider Western policy that makes contemporary readers take pause: ‘the supremacy of economy over politics in the West means that the West will purchase Soviet gas and construct pipelines as this lies in their interest. By doing so they are playing into Soviet hands – one frosty winter the Soviet Union will be able to turn off the tap and cut off heating in the entire West Germany.’ For those who broke the law to break the news recent headlines are no news at all.
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
For more information about the Solidarity collection, read our blog posts giving a general overview and focusing on satire in the collection. You can also read about some sensational news stories from interwar Poland here.
27 May 2022
On Sunday 23 August 1931 the front page of Tajny Detektyw (‘Undercover Detective’), a Polish weekly tabloid, featured a photograph of a beautiful woman ominously titled ‘Iga’s Tragedy’. The paper ran a story on a popular Warsaw dancer Iga Korczyńska shot and killed by her former fiancé Zacharjasz Drożyński. The story appealed to masses easily fascinated by classic tropes of love, high-life, obsession, adultery and crime. This was only one of many juicy articles that Tajny Detektyw chose to print that day.
Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 featuring Iga Korczyńska (Kraków, 1931) BL shelf mark RF.201.b.79
Extract from the article ‘Tragedja Igi’ in Tajny Detektyw, no. 32 (Kraków, 1931)
The newspaper was one of the most sensationalist titles in interwar Poland and made quite a name for itself. The weekly newspaper’s circulation of 100,000 used to sell out almost immediately. The title was owned by a Polish entrepreneur and publisher, the biggest and the most influential press magnate of the Second Polish Republic, Marian Dąbrowski.
Tajny Detektyw’s creators had an ambition for the newspaper to become something more than a regular penny paper. The periodical’s intricate graphic design was conceived and executed by Janusz Maria Brzeski a modernist artist, photographer and an avant-garde filmmaker headhunted by Dąbrowski. With determination not to be another ‘penny blood’ Tajny Detektyw’s publishers claimed that the paper’s mission was to ‘fight crime’.
United under this banner the periodical’s journalists did not shy away from any subject. They ventured deep into the realms of social pathology, murder, burglary and rape. They published gruesome stories and were uncompromising in the choice of protagonists that ranged from petty criminals, through corrupt civil servants to crooked judges and police officers. While the featured stories were grisly, their linguistic side had a certain poetic and literary quality to it. However, the newspaper quickly was blacklisted by various organisations, the Catholic Church amongst them. The paper was criticised for doing the exact opposite of what its mission was supposed to be – it was accused of propagating crime and corrupting public morals.
‘W sidłach sekty satanistów’ – ‘In the Clutches of the Satanic Cult’, gory details of a mysterious death in Warsaw. Front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 25 (Kraków, 1934)
‘Zbrodnia nad Prutem’ – ‘Crime by the Prut’: members of the local authorities and police officers photographed over the body of a victim of an unknown perpetrator. Back page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 37 (Kraków, 1932)
Tajny Detektyw’s graphic designer, Maria Brzeski, favoured collages in his artistic practice. Under his guidance the newspaper produced many exquisite examples of this technique such as this front page of Tajny Detektyw, no. 48 (Kraków, 1931)
It was rumoured that some criminals treated Tajny Detektyw as their training manual. In the end, Dąbrowski was forced to close down the title in 1934. It was a widely-discussed criminal trial of a married couple, Jan and Maria Malisz, that became the final nail in Tajny Detektyw’s coffin. The couple, a painter and his wife, committed a burglary resulting in a double homicide and bodily harm. The scandal and the court proceedings not only exposed the brutal reality of societal poverty in the Polish Second Republic and shed the light on desperation of those struggling for survival, but also became Dąbrowski’s newspaper damnation (see Stanisław Salomonowicz’s book, Pitaval krakowski (Kraków 2010) YF.2014.a.27456 ). Jan and Maria Malisz testified that their deed was inspired by an article in Tajny Detektyw describing a murder of a postman committed in Toruń. The couple thought that they could improve on the already existing scenario. Although, the plan backfired, they instead succeeded in finishing off the most popular criminal chronicle of its time of the social life of the Polish Second Republic. After a turbulent public discussion the newspaper was finally closed down.
‘Strzały w Hotelu Carlton’ – ‘Shots at Carlton Hotel’, one of the articles from the newspaper targeted at readers hungry for juicy gossip from abroad. Pages from Tajny Detektyw, no. 30 (Kraków, 1931)
‘Breaking the News’, a current exhibition at the British Library, offers more insight into ways that public opinions and beliefs influence the news and vice versa, including the ways in which scandal and violent crime are depicted. Visit the British Library website to learn more.
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European Collections
08 March 2022
“Your problems are also my problems” – tracing Ukraine in the British Library's Solidarity Collection
As the catastrophic situation in Ukraine unfolds, as human lives and cultural heritage are under threat, the Vernadsky National Library of Ukraine keeps displaying a curt and distressing message: ‘Due to the imposition of martial law throughout Ukraine, the library remains closed to readers’.
The tragic circumstances of one of the most populous countries in Europe remind us of the importance of international solidarity and the need to come together to preserve lives and heritage. In this blog post we take a look at Ukraine in the British Library’s Solidarity collection to show the prominence of international connections for building democracies.
Since 1980, when the Gdańsk Agreement was signed between the strikers of the Lenin Shipyard and the government of the Polish People’s Republic, the Polish ‘Solidarity’ movement – the trade union – has been being widely credited with playing a crucial role in ending communist rule in Poland. For many activists around the world Solidarity became a symbol of a successful battle against tyranny and dictatorship.
The British Library’s collection named after the movement holds thousands of items inspired by the theme of freedom and democracy. A detailed description of the collection can be found on our blog.
The Solidarity Collection, which includes diverse pro-democratic materials from many independent bodies, is a true testament to the freedom movement spreading through the Eastern Bloc in the late 1970s and 1980s. The following collection items highlight the connection between the Polish movement and Ukraine.
Cover of Tomasz Jastrun, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (Warszawa, 1985). Sol.223.c
Anna Walentynowicz (née Lubczyk), born in 1929 in Volhynia into a Ukrainian protestant family, was an icon of the Polish solidarity movement. From 1950, when Anna started working for the Gdansk Shipyard, she was actively engaged in defending workers’ rights, protesting against financial fraud, and distributing underground newsletters. In 1978 she joined the Free Trade Unions of the Coast (Wolne Związki Zawodowe Wybrzeża, WZZW), which two years later became an excuse for firing her from her post at the shipyard just before she was due to retire. The act, which infuriated her colleagues, triggered the famed strike on 14 August 1980, and consequentially led to the signing of the Gdańsk Agreement and the birth of the Solidarity trade union. By the mid-1980s Anna’s symbolic position within the ranks of the opposition prompted Tomasz Jastrun, a fellow dissident and literary critic to write her biography, Życie Anny Walentynowicz (The Life of Anna Walentynowicz), in the form of an extended interview. Although Walentynowicz later entered into a conflict with Lech Wałęsa over the direction the Solidarity movement was going, she worked relentlessly her entire life to defend human rights. She said in one of the interviews:
Our main duty is to consider the needs of the others. If we become alive to this duty, there will be no unjustly treated people in our midst, and we, in turn, shall not be treated unjustly. Our day-to-day motto should be: “Your problems are also my problems”. We must extend our friendship and strengthen our solidarity. Source: Extracts from Polish underground publications
A declaration of the hunger-strike protest signed by Anna Walentynowicz. Cele i zasady naszego głodowego protestu. List do społeczeństwa (Kraków, 1985) Sol.764
Anna died tragically in the Smolensk air disaster in 2010. Before her death she managed to find and reunite with her family in Ukraine from whom she had been separated during the Second World War.
Robotnik. Pismo członków Międzyzakładowego Robotniczego Komitetu „Solidarności” (Warszawa, 1986) Sol.764
This special issue of the underground periodical Robotnik (Worker) is devoted to the April 1986 atomic disaster in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The editors of Robotnik express their sympathy and proclaim solidarity with the victims of the catastrophe, which in their view occurred as a result of systematic negligence. They declare: ‘In the Soviet system there is no space for protecting human rights, even the most elementary right to life’. [my translation]
Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation
Oświadczenie w sprawie zasad współpracy polsko-ukraińskiej (Paryż, 1987) Sol.764
The Liberal Democratic Party ‘Niepodległość’/’Independence’ aimed to overthrow the communist regime and make Poland an independent country. One of their goals was to establish a common position of the Ukrainian and Polish opposition regarding mutual support for the countries’ independence and the future Polish-Ukrainian border. The 1987 ‘Proclamation on the Rules of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation’, held in the Solidarity collection, shows a joint attempt to reach a solution. The signatories promise to respect each other’s right to national independence.
A postcard celebrating 1000 years of Christianity in Ukraine (1988) Sol.764
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections
Shana Penn, Solidarity’s secret: the women who defeated Communism in Poland (Ann Arbor, Mich.; Bristol, 2005). YC.2007.a.10368
M. Szporer, ‘Anna Walentynowicz and the Legacy of Solidarity in Poland’ Journal of Cold War studies, 13:1 (2011), pp. 213-222. 4958.799420
28 February 2022
Hardly anyone growing up in Poland in the 1980s can say they are not familiar with the flagship Polish TV production Nights and Days. The movie, later followed by a TV series, was a frequent guest in Polish homes and for many young people a much more dreaded part of the Christmas period than Home Alone is today. The production was based on Maria Dąbrowska’s novel of the same title, Noce i dnie.
Title page of Noce i dnie by Maria Dąbrowska. (Warsaw, 1934-35) 012591.dd.85
The author’s opus mundi was by most critics considered the greatest achievement of Polish interwar literature. Awarded the Golden Laurel of the Polish Academy of Literature Dąbrowska was nominated five times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Maria Dąbrowska by Anna Linke, illustration from Maria Dąbrowska, Dzienniki, (Warsaw, 1988) YA.1989.a.16391)
To be perfectly honest, her epic (and compulsory) novel was a difficult read for a teenager. Barbara, the main protagonist, her fears of spinsterhood, unhappy marriage, burdens and boredom of mundane living are much better understood later in life – just like John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte’s Saga or Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks. Nonetheless, generations of Polish pupils were ‘taught’ Nights and Days and learned about Maria Dąbrowska from zealous teachers who insisted on instilling in us the love of literature and of our mother tongue. However, what they mostly failed to teach at the time was an appreciation of diversity through the true life-story of the author.
Only years after my graduation from the Polish school system have I learned that Maria Dąbrowska was much more complicated and considerably more exciting a person that our teachers made us believe. Coming from impoverished landed gentry Dąbrowska was a socialist, an ardent critic of anti-Semitism, a tolerant and unprejudiced person who lived in an open relationship with her husband Marian Dąbrowski and later with her long-time partner, the social activist and freemason Stanisław Stempowski. However, the longest lasting and probably the most emotionally close relationship Dąbrowska had was that with a fellow writer, Anna Kowalska.
Cover of Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969, (Warsaw, 2008) YF.2009.a.30901
Although Dąbrowska met Kowalska by chance at a party in pre-war Lviv, their relationship did not start until the 1940s when Anna and her husband Jerzy arrived in Nazi-occupied Warsaw. In the course of their life-binding relationship Anna and Maria exchanged almost 2400 letters that testify to their turbulent relationship and deep affection for each other. Anna looked up to Maria who encouraged her to take more care with her writing. Nonetheless, Anna was a brilliant translator, publicist and intellectual. She was a creator and active participant of Wrocław’s post-war literary scene. In 1949 she received a Pen Club award for her Opowiadania greckie (Warsaw, 1956; 12596.bbb.18.). The two women constantly challenged and stimulated each other both emotionally and intellectually. Anna wrote in her diary: “Before I go to sleep, when I lie awake, after I wake up, when I wash, cook, drink and clean, I make up conversations with M. Only recently have I noticed that I stopped being lonely, or rather alone (as you can be lonely with someone) in my existence.” [Dzienniki, my translation]
Maria Dąbrowska, Bronisław Linke and Anna Kowalska at Anna and Bronisław Linke’s flat in Warsaw 1951. Illustration from: Anna Kowalska, Dzienniki 1927-1969.
As Dąbrowska insisted that her diaries must not be published in an unabridged form until 40 years after her death, only recently have we been able to fully appreciate the depth of her connection with Anna and to understand better the consequences this bond had for the work and personal lives of both women. Kowalska once commented:
I am fascinated by the fate of this relationship, when everything is against it: age, gender, circumstances, and on M.’s side weariness and emotional exhaustion. She craves artistic fulfilment only. However, so do I, but I cannot bring myself to talk about it as it is a sore point, an all-consuming anxiety. [my translation]
Anna and Maria discussed the complicated nature of their relationship, as Maria struggled with the notion that their love is dangerous. In a letter to her lover Anna states:
Love is not shameful. Darling, what a joy that you are not ashamed of love. What a relief! Homosexual love, if it is not for show, but is plainly more destructive and tormenting, is no less significant or ‘dignified’. … The middle class has hated love for centuries. The extent of the taboo is surprising. [Quote from Ewa Głębicka, Rzecz prywatna, rzecz sekretna. O granicach intymności w korespondencji Marii Dąbrowskiej i Anny Kowalskiej z lat 1946-1948, (Warsaw, 2017)]
Both women dared to be different – strived to fulfil their emotional and professional ambitions – in times when being different was not perceived as a virtue. Their lives were filled with struggles against societal norms, but at the same time, in their own way, they came out victorious from this fight by living their lives to the fullest.
Cover of Sylwia Chwedorczuk, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej, (Warszawa, 2020) awaiting shelfmark
Poland’s struggle to officially recognise LGBTQ+ rights creates challenges to those who want to commemorate and research the minority’s history and culture. However, the upside of the situation is that it generates more interest in human rights and it prompts efforts to build awareness of those in the country’s rich history who dared to be themselves despite limitations of social conventions. Sylwia Chwedorczuk’s fascinating and non-judgmental biography of Anna, Kowalska, ta od Dąbrowskiej (‘Kowalska, the one with Dąbrowska’) is a brilliant example of this trend. Chwedorczuk, who partly based her book on unpublished correspondence between the two women, gives the reader a sneak-peek into their lives – their virtues and their flaws, to put it simply, their humanity. I hope that books like this will one day become part of school curricula. Looking back at my young self, this is the book I would have loved to read.
Olga Topol, Curator Slavonic and East European collections
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