As a matter of fact, at the core of this art and its only subject is humanity. How this sounds! Why have I written this sentence? I hate this kind of emphatic and at the same time elevated statements as if they were quoted from a school essay. They do the whole mental work for us; make sensitivity and intuition completely needless. Nevertheless, it so happens that it is impossible to start in another way. Indeed, the main subject and main motif in Malwina Niespodziewana’s creation is the human being. This has been so since the beginning and there is almost no departure from the rule. The artist remains faithful to her greatest passion, her keenest interest, possibly even her obsession – figure and figurative art.
The human being is interpreted in a special way. The most important features of a figure are stiffness and stillness. By no means can we find here poses seized from everyday life; one cannot even speak of everyday life, a kind of realism. The figures often remain crouching, their faces expressionless, showing no emotions or thoughts; they do not want to convey anything to us, they do not have memorable facial features. They look somehow inwards, sink deep inside. Drawn with a strong, flexible and elastic line, the bodies make up complete, decorative wholes, undiscerning and closed forms, perfectly sunk into the background. Thus the artist is preoccupied with a silhouette; what is outside. One may find exceptions to the rule though. Malwina opens the body then – by means of the material she uses, like transparent paper in a series of objects-figures, or by taking out some organs, which become the main motifs of her works, such as a cycle devoted to blood (Blood, 2002, 2005). In the latter we can see a transformed depiction of blood corpuscle, where the artist reaches for her favourite strong, saturated colour, usually used for backgrounds. This is a series of works on a round basis, representing concentric forms. These may be associated with a symbolic, female language that refers to centrality, to round, soft shapes. It is worth highlighting that there is no correspondence between the use of such forms and a purposeful search for some female language. Another thing that should be accented is the use of ornamentation; the microscopic world was transferred from under the microscope and transformed into a decoration; a blood corpuscle became a kind of mandala, and all of these sing life’s praises.
There are not images of existing people; we can see here human beings in general. Stiffening of a character, directing the sight inwards derive from the fact that people often assume meditation poses. Thus Malwina’s works resemble cult representation; they seem to be useful in performing rituals or saying prayers of some religion. A good illustration of this may be bewitching works made of little, transparent pieces of paper glued together, with imprinted small hands and feet covered with ornamental, rich decorations of meandering and intertwining lines (Carpet I, II, 2005). These works may develop infinitely through assumption of other elements. They are like Eastern carpets, the decoration of which contains a wealth of symbols that refer to the universe, but also to fertility, love and life. Inspiration for these works was derived from Indian patterns for henna body painting, thus the pieces refer to women in particular. However, other, ritual works allude either to men or are located in the sphere of generality, somewhere beyond gender. This cultural syncretism seems to be linked to what the artist calls ‘a universal body”. In her own commentaries, inspired by numerous journeys, she emphasises that most striking for her is what is common, a basic alphabet of feeling, reaction, similar everywhere, present in all cultures, even if they seem so remote. What joins is the body, its physiology, first, subconscious reflexes. For this reason the artist might reach for old treatises on human body and anatomy, for fascinating prints that show medical knowledge of the past prior to discoveries of modern medicine. They are stimulating in a non-orthodox way, which means the artist derives inspiration from the visual side of the knowledge about the body. She finds Far Eastern medical works especially inspiring as well as the knowledge of special points and energy flow in the body and the body’s connection to the whole cosmos.
A similar tangle of topic and inspiration can be found in all of Malwina’s works. The variety of interests, certain mixture of threads and references to various images of the body in different cultures result in a consistent and homogenous art. A special kind of generalisation, sensitive to aesthetic value and in particular to the rhythm of lines and shapes characterise her figures. It appears that the curiosity about the world and numerous inspirations such as the aforementioned Far East with Japan and India, but also Persia, folk art, the art of ancient Mesopotamia or decadent European art of the fin de siecle that pursued inspiration in exotic art and Japanese woodcuts produce a characteristic, pure and frugal whole kneaded together with a penchant for synthesis. Silence, elegance, subtlety, extensive use of colour and form can be numbered among other features of this art.
I would like to emphasize several issues, which are, in my opinion, important. The first is the relation of the body to an ornament. That can be seen for instance in the described before series Carpets with the images of richly decorated feet and hands. This is also present in her large graphic pieces, showing female bodies wreathed in hair so that the body is hardly visible except for fragments showing through in places (Sati, 2005; Burn This Body I, II, 2006). Hair is shown as a captivating, serpentine and curving ornament, shrouding a woman from head to foot, which evokes associations with representations of reformed harlots – for example Mary of Egypt, prevalent in late Medieval Christian art. The ornament in this case covers the body and its nakedness, the hair plays an ambiguous role – it constitutes a means of temptation, but also a kind of an outfit decently concealing the body. Malwina Niespodziewana adds one more meaning to this set – hair as a shroud. This series is devoted to an Indian ritual which required burning widows; a ritual that is cruel and incomprehensible to a newcomer from Europe; nowadays illegal, but still practised. There is an association of hair with clouds of smoke and the death of one’s free will or tradition is depicted as a dream, a kind of bliss, silence, by no means cruel, but loftily magnificent. Ornament serves a function that generalises, sublimates the body and creates an atmosphere of melancholy in this work.
The artist repeatedly makes use of similarities between human skin and paper. This could be most conspicuous in a series of spatial works – sculptures representing human figures (Ningen, 2002). There one can find for instance a pregnant woman with a baby that could be seen due to paper transparency (Pregnancy, 2003). This feature of the Japanese paper the figures were made of creates a vivid impression, a bit as though they had been ripped off a person. One can experience a feeling that usually accompanies looking at anatomical specimens, as if it was possible to look inside an organism. These figures were sewn, which also brings connotations of sewing clothes - a typically feminine job.
I would also like to give emphasis to the cycle dedicated to emotional relations between people. This appeared in a poignant series devoted to the heart and love, which consists of white T-shirts with an anatomical depiction of the heart that is connected with a web of threads to the other printed on another T-shirt (Lovers, 2004). The shirts have been designed to be worn in pairs thus creating necessity for self-restriction and adapting one’s activities to one’s partner’s activities, for empathy and ideal harmony in life, as with Siamese twins. This union is not compulsory but voluntary. In another action, performed together with her husband, the artist herself is seated with hair hanging loose and he cuts it and embroiders the words of a wedding vow (Pledge, 2005). In this simple, moving work there is a lot of content, including faithfulness, love, sharing, hope, a moment of decision that makes a man and a woman choose to live together. The work refers to rites of passage which mark important stages or occasions in a person’s life, for instance an old, folk ritual of cutting hair (a plait) after a woman got married.
The human being – the hero of Malwina Niespodziewana’s artistic creation – appears there through their corporeal coating, through the body. What is material, sensual does not refer here to anything low. Frugality, a kind of ascetism and a synthesis of form bring about the loftiness and divinity of the human being. In Malwina Niespodziewana’s output there is a strong correlation between the spiritual and the material. The body leads to the most sophisticated kingdoms of spirit – and only through it can one achieve spiritual mastery.
Magdalena Ujma
Małgorzata „Malwina” Niespodziewana Prace/Works, wyd. Grafia, Kraków 2006