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Malwina Niespodziewana has always been undertaking journeys. This is a journey that constitutes an appropriate metaphor for her intellectual anxiety, a need for new experiences, studies, reflections on herself, her own and other art, which she expresses systematically in her sketch book and the diary she has kept for many years. It is hard to enumerate the artistic and other activities that she takes up. Graphic art above all, but also painting, along with the book art, installation and video as well as collaborative theatrical activity, participation in artistic groups. She has done philological, pedagogical, artistic, and language studies, and recently completed a doctorate at the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow.
The search for identity, never-ending spiritual journey and an attempt to define her place among others has brought the artist in a natural way to cultural confrontation. Further journeys have also taken place in space. It is marked by a series of scholarships and artistic apprenticeships, exhibitions and private expeditions: to Sicily, Italy, Spain, France, but above all the East – Japan, India and Nepal. The Orient has been very much the mode since Romanticism. The cognition of Nepal and India as a distinguishing feature of a generation was propagated by the teenage culture of the 1960s and 70s. For Malwina, however, travelling in the New Millennium, her sojourns have a dimension of a tangible initiation, a complex experience, in which artistic practice, problems and technique discoveries are inseparably intertwined with spiritual illumination.
For the artist, the East means discovering one’s self in the context of other “strangers” among whom she lives and works. The key to this discovery, which might seem to be far-fetched, is cognition of the culture of paper. For a graphic artist it is a rudimentary experience. One may remember a critical period in Jerzy Panek’s artistic creation – his stay in China in 1956, his “reinvention of paper” and the culture of print, which were to prove crucial to further creation. In Japan, Malwina, under the supervision of a master, is initiated into the process of making paper. The tasks she performs require time, patience, self-control, precision of gesture. This is not only mastering the skill, but a spiritual advancement, a lengthy process of achieving perfection. Paper, which she gets to know in that way, is no longer an abstract “underpainting”, it becomes a live matter, an interactive part of the work of art, its structure. It is often “borderless” paper, cut into irregular parts, glued or sewn together by the artist. She is not obliged by any standards or format limits. That affects her creation, gives freedom of composition and influences graphic narration. T he works considerably surpass the previous ones in terms of greatness. Paper can be folded in several parts and is also stiff enough to be shaped. It is transparent and has a vivid, thick texture. It must have been its sensual aura that decided its usefulness in forming three-dimensional objects, human figures, often elements of bigger installations. Paper, but also the ritual of its making, which requires physical and spiritual unity, had an impact on a new experience of the body, an evolution of the phenomenon always crucial to Malwina’s creation. The artistic creation of hers has experienced vicissitudes. Her diploma work with its title (“Ceremonies”, 1998) suggests the issue of artificiality and theatrical manner in which the body manifests its presence. In fact, it is an innovative presentation of the cycle of birth and death, movement and stillness, seclusion and attempts of mutual contact, the mystery of similarity and distinctness, expression of the body and gesture. By then the artist in her early series refers to non-European depiction tradition in search of primitiveness and the archetypal notion of a human being. That new figure depiction of hers caused a commotion in Krakow graphic art.
In subsequent works, created at the turn of the centuries, the issue of existentialism is not so prominent. The matter of principles is replaced with more earthly issues. “I have dealt with universality of feelings and emotions, paid attention to behaviour patterns which influence body’s exhibition”, the artist wrote after several years. Flat, silhouetted, frontal representation of women against a neutral, spatially isolated background impresses with colour or contrast between intense black and white colours. Their naked bodies, sometimes with an added attribute, ostentatiously pose, assume given roles and masks: “Gothic”, “Tsarina”, “Butterfly”, “Faun”, “Belladonna”.
Malwina’s artistic output has hitherto almost entirely been connected with figurative art. This will continue to be so, although the feeling for abstraction she has expressed before will bring about the sublimation of figure, clear it of temporary, accidental elements, will give it a general dimension. These tendencies have been manifested in her works much earlier, portending her manifesto of “a universal body”. “During my three-month stay in Japan I realised that the body can assume various identities or assume none and become different though. In spite of differences in facial features or hair colour, my body was similar in weight to a Japanese one. […]
Thus, in distinctness between bodies I found unexpected common features. Slowly I started to build the conception of a universal body”. The experience of the East let the artist assess herself and others in terms of similarity, not distinctness. It has shattered her previous image of the body.
New inspirations and interests come with time. What allows for a “pure” depiction is the observation of a human being, their body language, all the more effective due to unfamiliar ground, thereby free from associations resulting from cultural status. Universal body becomes a disembodied, designer chart. Thus gesture, a carrier of a person’s individuality and uniqueness, so important in her previous creation, becomes a distillate of emotions, ornament, pattern and sign legible in terms of a general visual alphabet. Body painting she gets to know in India becomes merely an abstract continuation of the gesture. It also applies to gender issues. An ideal solution for Malwina is a reconciliation of contrasts; which is referred to as coincidentia oppositorum in the study of religion. Therefore there are “joint”, hermaphroditic creatures, so common in her artistic creation, in a perfect way realising the programme of “a universal body”.
The artist is also interested in other depictions of the body. She refers to ancient anatomical atlases, those belonging to Eastern as well as and Western cultures. She finds inspiration in blood circulation charts and indications of energetic points. Once again she notices the differences between treating the body and its inside in both cultures.
Malwina’s artistic potential and energy do not result from her strict conformity with the programmatic idea of “a universal body”, though. Just the opposite, enlivening in her creation is the sense of individualism and uniqueness received from European culture clashing with the concept of universality and generality characteristic of Eastern culture. Not only does such duality exist on the grounds of the concept, but it also applies to the form of her works. What is more, variety of solutions is stimulating; from abstract depiction of skin tissue or physiological fluids strengthening the body, to designer ornament of “bodiless” trunks. In Malwina’s experience of the world, so tinged with intellectual thought, her creation is determined by sensitivity, senses, and above all, emotional attitude. Direct inspiration, valuable experiences happen to impose solutions different from original assumptions and arrangements. This is the only way to interpret her beautiful monumental drawing of female and male figures clasped with waving, ardent hair. This is Malwina’s interpretation and comment on the Indian ritual of Sati, legally binding in the 19th century, which required burning a wife with her deceased spouse.
We might suppose that a description of the Sati ritual made an impression on the artist, and the concept of “a universal body” and experience of abstraction proved insufficient to convey the artistic evidence of this horrifying (at least from our cultural tradition’s point of view), but also moving ceremony. But for her previous experiences, she might not have created so personal, non-conventional work, playing a sophisticated game with hackneyed patterns of sentimentalism and styling.
Jan Fejkiel
Małgorzata „Malwina” Niespodziewana Prace/Works, wyd. Grafia, Kraków 2006