Premiering this weekend and receiving rave reviews from the international art press, Poland’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale captivated visitors while simultaneously putting the country’s Roma community in the spotlight.
Breaking boundaries in the process, the project was prepared by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas, the first Roma artist to represent Poland at this prestigious event.
Hailing from Czarna Góra at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, his exhibition has been described as “unmissable” and “triumphant” by Art Net and “prodigious” by The Observer.
The New York Times, meanwhile, declared her to be one of only two artists who “have completely stood up for the occasion.”
Entitled “Reenchanting the World,” the pavilion proved to be one of the main talking points at the Biennale, with the artist herself delighted with the feedback.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, she said: “I am deeply honored to represent Poland, but I don’t just represent Polish art. I am here as a representative of the Roma community and of Roma art as well.
“This show tells a lot of stories. One concerns how we Roma are perceived, how we have been portrayed and how we describe ourselves. Another part concerns the great Roma women that I admire.
“Finally, it is a story about my family and the life of my community in Czarna Góra. In this sense, it is a story about myself. It is the first time in the history of the Biennale that a Roma artist is able to tell her own story with her own voice – or, indeed, with her own hands.
A graduate of Poland’s oldest art institute, the Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow, Mirga-Tas has used her Venetian platform to challenge stereotypes while presenting her unfiltered and unbiased point of view.
“In the life of every human being there is a need for magic and enchantment,” she says. “However, at certain times, you have to be disenchanted… By selecting a few subjects related to the representation of the Roma, I tried to demystify them by reversing the gaze cast on us.
To do this, Mirga-Tas presented a huge frieze covering all sides of the pavilion. First creating it inside an abandoned hotel in Zakopane, she was aided by a trio of colleagues who worked on twelve fabrics in all, each divided into three distinct levels.
At the top, she chose to emulate the 17th century anti-Roma engravings of Lorraine engraver Jacques Callot, exchanging only her negative stereotypes with images designed to highlight the rich heritage and mythology of Roma culture.
Below, the middle section has been dubbed “an archive of Roma history”, only one illustrated from a female perspective. Here, Mirga-Tas referenced her “Herstories” series and a space dedicated to the important women in her life while interweaving these depictions with tarot and zodiac symbols.
By fusing real women with such magical elements, Mirga-Tas says she hoped to elevate these everyday heroines to appear as goddesses.
Finally, on the lower level, the artist has chosen to represent scenes of daily life in his native village, again with a strong feminine orientation.
Fittingly given the location of the Biennale, the whole project was heavily inspired by the fresco in the Hall of Months inside Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. As a result, the palace’s interiors, layout and overall form were also used by Mirga-Tas to serve as “visual and ideological points of reference”.
Keen to stay true to her people and her roots, many of the fabrics she used come from the clothes worn by the women depicted.
Striking in its scope, message, ambition and aesthetics, the success of “Reenchanting the World” justified last year’s decision to entrust Mirga-Tas with the honor of representing Poland.
Selected last September by a jury appointed by the Minister of Culture, Piotr Gliński, when the jury declared publicly: “The jury noted the unusually attractive visual form of the project combined with an original and deliberate ideological concept” proposing a new story about the constant migration of images and mutual influences between Roma, Polish and European cultures”.
“The project creatively blends the artist’s personal experience and local histories with, among other things, the Renaissance wall painting tradition, while combining private iconography with the symbolism and allegory of centuries ago.”