Ewa Partum

The work of Ewa Partum contributes to the pioneering artistic analyses on the position of women evolving in Poland at a time when feminist theories were still unheard of. While the United States saw the second wave of feminism as early as Betty Friedan’s publication of The Feminist Mystique in 1963, Partum’s earliest work, in which she traces the contours of her body on a white canvas in the open landscape around Sopot on the Baltic Sea, dates back only to 1965. This work, entitled Presence, marks the representation of woman in public space—which the artist has since continued demonstrating over the years in various performances, be it with her own naked body or in combination with signs and letters to signify the non-explicit. The latter is put forth in the reverse action Absence, where one sees only the contours of the body’s shadows plus a pair of black rubber boots. This diptych from 1965 marks woman’s split position within society, which Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing analyzed in his 1960 publication The Divided Self, a seminal book on the conditions of mental deviation as a sign of social pressure which also influenced the work of VALIE EXPORT. 

The impossibility of an adequate representation of the subject in public is manifested in the 1971 performance Legality of Space, where Partum placed traffic signs and various textual plates on a square at the center of Łódź. Here the artist demonstrates the restrictions placed upon the individual in public while also rendering hyperbolic the absurdities implied by mechanisms of political control, with one of the signs translating as “Forbidding forbidden.” The transgression of forbidden territory which lies at the center of Partum’s art represents a general feature of feminist practices since the 1960s, forcing the dissolution of the inequalities between private and public life. One of the artist’s important performances in this context is entitled Change – My Problem is the Problem of a Woman (1979), where Partum uses her whole body, onto which make-up artists apply make-up to make one part of the artist’s body look old, while the artist engages with the audience. In the background one can hear the recordings of texts by Lucy Lippard, VALIE EXPORT and the artist herself; these mark the interrelations of feminism at that time despite often-difficult channels of communication.



1945, Grodzisk Mazowiecki / PL


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