Woman’s face from the portraits hanging on the wall belongs to Katarzyna Kobro. Her silhouette emerges from a black background. All portraits are small, all were fitted with decorative frames made of various materials. They resemble sepulchral portraits, which together form a memory wall. Maybe except for one. In this one Kobro is most easily recognizable. She stands dressed in an eccentric, at least for those days, black and white dress and a distinctive hat.
The life of one of the greatest avant-garde sculptors is still little known, but her legend has no match. A series of artworks created by Małgorzata Malwina Niespodziewana is an attempt to confront the myth that was shaped, though perhaps unconsciously, by Nika Strzemińska. She shows Kobro the artist, but above all Kobro the woman - how the features of her face changed over time, the clothes she wore, her relationship with Wladyslaw Strzemiński and their daughter.
The story of Catherine is based on archive materials, photographs, memoirs about her mother published by Nika Strzemińska (the book Art, love and hate) and interviews conducted by Malwina with people who knew the Strzemiński family. A series of works on Kobro becomes a field for experiment with form and technique. Niespodziewana uses graphic techniques, but in unconventional ways - she combines graphics with photocopies of photographs, creating a spatial form.
Moments from the life of Kobro captured in photographs go to the Black boxes. Inside, there are several planes of faces, silhouettes, or groups of figures. The artist couple appear in the company of the poet Julian Przyboś. We see the crowd that came to celebrate the moment of granting Strzemiński the Lodz Art Award in 1932. The events depicted are, however, just the background for another story - Black boxes record the progressing disintegration of Strzemiński and Kobro’s marriage.
The story of Catherine finds its continuation in the three books. Two of them refer to pop-up books for children. After opening the image becomes spatial. Some elements can be moved. But simplified drawing and children’s publishing convention are misleading, since Malwina presents the life story of the sculptor and her relatives as a ‘dark fairytale’. She goes from white to black. The first book was maintained in white. It is about the life of Kobro until Nika’s birth; about youth in the times of October Revolution, it is about meeting Strzemiński and about war exile, it is about Kobro looking for theoretical basis for her artistic experiments - she makes sculptures and writes about art.
The second book is about the intertwined fates of mother and daughter. It ends with the scene of the sculptor’s funeral. This time the story was rendered in black: Kobro destroys her sculptures, Kobro explains before the court that she does not renounce Polish nationality, Kobro makes a nude sculpture of her daughter. Malwina is also interested in the alleged nationalistic background of the conflict between the artist and her husband as well as the illness which will be ‘inherited’ by her daughter.
What follows next is a comic book. Niespodziewana used notes by Nika Strzemińska. The story begins in the late 90s. It is a record of Nika’s struggle with cancer, in which her mother returns like a chorus. At that time the book Art, love and hate is published in Italy, and interest in the work of Kobro, both at home and abroad, is increasing. Television interviews, exhibitions like the one in Leeds, opened by Nika - her illness is accompanied by continuous efforts for Kobro to regain her deserved place in art history. Daily life, however, is filled with doctor’s visits. Nika speaks of hereditary burden. The mother becomes a mirror in which the daughter sees her own reflection.
Patrycja Cembrzyńska