I am from Poland but my identity is much more complex. Living in New York I am certainly not up to speed on polish current events. I do read the news and whenever there is mention of my country I scrutinize it for political bias and relevance.
This year there were only two big stories in Poland that we heard about in the US, and both reported on censorship of Polish female artists…
First, the video art work “Consumer Art” from 1973 by an artist Natalia LL was removed from the National Museum in Warsaw on the decision of the Polish Ministry of Culture. The video shows the artists eating famous during the Communist era finger pretzels – “paluszki” (famous because they were the only pretzels available), Polish sausage, and a banana. Polish authorities deemed the art work culturally irrelevant and offensive to core Polish catholic sensibilities. Which begs the question to paraphrase Freud when is a banana not a banana?
The other artwork that has made the news was made by Elżbieta Podleśna, LGBTQ activist, who altered an image of Polish Madonna of Częstochowa by adding the rainbow halos around the Mary’s and Baby Jesus’ heads for which she was arrested and accused of defamation of religious symbols. For that she is now facing 2 years in prison.
Even in Poland, which has an emerging viewpoint on freedom of speech, removing the artwork of Natalia Lech-Lachowicz seems ridiculous, and imprisoning Elżbieta Podleśna poses legitimate human rights questions. As an art activist I felt that I had to do something about it. It was imperative I create some type of response to the Polish artists’ sudden censorship. That led me to the idea of using the literary cut-up technique within the context of performance art. Between the two censored artists I settled on the banana and the rainbow halo while also referencing my motherhood performances, thus creating a new body of work called “Polish Madonna”.
I have been asking myself if suddenly in Poland we have a quasi religious police similar to the one in Saudi Arabia. I don’t have first-hand experience with the Saudi Religious Police but I have heard a story of a work colleague who was arrested by them when she was delivering an HR course in Saudi in a private hotel’s conference room – she was arrested because a woman cannot teach men. As absurd as this may seem to western ears, the arrest of an artist for painting a rainbow halo over the picture of The Black Madonna Of Częstochowa doesn’t fall short of violating the citizens’ basic human rights. I could say it is ridiculous but we are talking here about possible 2 year in prison sentence that Elżbieta Podleśna faces for WHAT SHE DID.
So what did Elżbieta Podleśna do? She has broken up the white light into its constituent spectral colours creating the rainbow effect. You see, she has not broken the law, she has only broken up the light, shedding the light onto that sacred halo of all Christian Saints which is the kundalini energy expressed through the crown chakra.
And here I know I lost…this argument with the Polish censorship, if not yet the Polish religious police, and now I am finally and certainly banned because if you know the Polish culture as well as I do – a minimum 15 years of your childhood of regular church indoctrination and catholic praying – then you know too well kundalini equals snake, snake equals Satan, Satan equals feminism. And if you mention chakras you are certainly possessed by evil.
So here I am THE EVIL FEMINIST POSSESSED BY DEMONIC FORCES, and ready to scarify my child in the process:
After a week in Venice I travelled with my son to my home town Elk in Mazury Lake District. In Poland I decided to create an itineration of the Polish Madonna performance. How would our world develop if women were the primary powers? What sort of changes in religious beliefs and social customs would it entice? Worshiping the female Goddess – what emotional effects this could have upon the self-esteem and development of young girls? As a girl in a catholic country I was told my feminine nature was the cause of all evil, because of Eve, the first woman who ate the fruit from the tree of knowledge, we were all condemned by the mighty God, the authoritative male figure who knows all and decides our fate. What if this was all wrong, an ideology that is used to control the masses and subjugate half of the population into the state servitude, being so much less than we could – if only the Goddess would share the fruits of her tree without shame, guild, prejudice. We were cast out of Paradise, not because we ate the apple (which actually was a fig) but because we denied women their freedom and their sexual power! The patriarchal civilization is destroying itself, living in denial and in sin of distorting the truth for the sake of controlling us. The Goddess is here to bring the love and share the fruits of her tree for the flourishing of loving human relationships.
As part of Polish Madonna Apparition in Elk, I developed the performance “Eating From the Tree of the Goddess” or in Polish version “Papierowki Papiezycy” that was first presented in Venice at ARTI 3160 gallery. The Polish version of the performance was also participatory, as I invited passersby at the Pope Plaza to share the apples I collected the previous day from my family orchard.
Upon my return to New York I was invited by journalist Paul DeRienzo to talk about my current projects, on his program “Let them talk” on local Manhattan network. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my thoughts and impressions from Polish Madonna’s European tour.
Jana Astanov is a multidisciplinary artist, a poet and an independent curator living in New York. Born in Poland she studied anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics in France, and arts in the UK. She is a founder of CREATRIX Magazine: www.creatrixmag.com, portal for creative expression focused on art, activism and spiritual practice. Her work includes photography, poetry, performance art, sound art, and installation. She describes her performance art practice as “mythology vs ideology” referring to her two main interests the political & economic foundations of our civilization and mythological/ religious values. In her work, she utilizes elements of hypnosis, spirituality, dance movement derived from the Grotowski technique, sound art, ritualistic theatre and astrofeminism, term she has developed through her character Yannanda The One Who Speaks With The Stars. She has started three feminist performance groups JeDeive (Self Proclaimed Goddess), Red Temple (also a publishing house) and W.I.S.E. focused on ecological emergency. Astanov encourages other women to create and write their own stories that she often includes in her performances with an aim to portray the female world. Together with her partner Niko van Egten she co-created an electronic music group ASTRALOOP featuring her poetry in dark electronic arrangements. She is also the author of five collections of poetry: Antidivine, Grimoire, Sublunar, The Pillow Book of Burg, and Birds of Equinox.