Izabela Kowalczyk

An Unwanted Kingdom

The exhibition of Dorota Nieznalska - Królestwo The Kingdom - comprises crowns of thorns embellished with red corals and amber, seated onsatin pilows and enclosed in glass cabinets ( Złota Królowa ,The Golden Queen, Czerwona K., The Red Q.,and Królowa Polski, The Queen of Poland). They are accompanied by the Wieniec mistyczny, A Mystic Wreath, lying on the fioor and composed of crowns of thorns cast in bronze.There is also Król Polski , The King of Poland- a single crown lying on the floor and chained to the wall. The chain signifies enslavement as leather handcuffs do in the installation Czerwona K.,in which they are chained to the crown. All this is accompanied by erotic drawings.

The crown of thorns is the symbol of the Passion of Christ, who wore it along the Way of the Cross and at the time of His death.The crown was made by the soldiers of Pontius Pilate following his sentencing of Christ to fiagellation. The soldiers crowned Christ with the crown of thorns, they put a red robe on Him and handed Him a cane: they began to come up to Him to mock Him, spit at Him and whip His head with a cane (cf. John 19:1-3). Thus the crown of thorns is also a symbol of humiliation, it is associated with the image of the crucified Christ, whose face is covered with drops of sweat and blood oozing from the wounds made by the thorns piercing the skin.This image of the face of the suffering Christ is present on all artistic presentations of the Passion of Christ, or the Passion.

The image of Christ is absent from Dorota Nieznalska's Królestwo, however, here only the symbol of passion remains, the crown of thorns.What is more, this crown is embellished with red corals and amber as well as polished gold and thus it becomes a precious fetish resting on pilows. It starts to be associated with the royal insignia.What kind of Kingdom is mean here? The title of one of the crowns, Król Polski, sends us in the direction of the Polish state, a secular authority which uses Christian symbols in order to use the support of the authority of the Church and by the same token in sacralizes itself.

In my opinion, one cannot understand the exhibition Królestwo of Dorota Nieznalska without making reference to the context of a court trial in which the artist was accused of offending religious sensibilites in connection with her exhibition Pasja , The Passion, organized in a Gdańsk gallery Wyspa (from December 14,2001 through January 20, 2002; after this exhibition the gallery was closed by virute of a decision issued by the Rector of the Academy of Fine Arts).

The work Pasja uses religious symbols to discuss the secular context of traning to become masculine. The work makes reference to two meanings of the word Passion, which may signify the agony as well as dedication to something, performing some activity with great vocation and commitment (as saying: to do something with Passion).The installation was accompanied by a video which explained why this notion and the symbol of a cross were used (the cross did not directly refer to the cross of Christ however). The video showed a male working out in a gym. The meanings of this work lead us to the issue of Masculinity (that explains the image of male genitalia) which has to be trained, exercised. The men who consciously subject to body- bulding practices and therefore torture their bodies are dedicated to it,they do it with passion, and frequently in agony. Thus, Dorota Nieznalska's Pasja was primarily about modern techniques of disciplining the body and the issue of Masculinity. The accusations of the profanation of the cross were therefore absurd and resulted from a misunderstanding of the artist's work.

However, on March 2,2002 Nieznalska received the first summons from the prosecutor.Deputies from the LPR party (the Leauge of Polish Families) barged into the gallery after it had already been closed and brought a case to the court claming that religious sensibilites were being offended. In April the case was sent to a District Court and the artist was accused by virtue of Art.196 of the Penal Code stipulating that whoever offends the religious sensibilities of other persons by desecrating in public an object of religious worship or a place dedicated to the public celebration of religious rites, shall be subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to 2 years.

The trial of the artist commenced at the court in Gdańsk and resembled of a farce during its entire course in 2002-2003. What was bizarre was that the artist was being procecuted for a work of art All the prosecution witnesses knew the work only from press relases or tv, where the genitals were concealed by a special blur. During the trial the witnesses would show press clippings with the picture of this part of Pasja to one another. The trial was concluded with a sentence of six months of community service for the artist. The appeals court questioned this verdict; and consequently an appeal began ending with the acquittal of the artist on June 4,2009. During that time the artist faced insults and threats, and in the course of subsequent appeal trials she confronted a crowd of her opponents.

The trial was transformed into a political demonstration of the right wing; the first trial attracted the supporters of the League of Polish Families (LPR) and Młodzież Wszechpolska (All-Polish Youth)1waving white-and-red flags and pictures of the Mother of God of Częstochowa. The court in Gdańsk remembered its own neutrality only when the third trial was attended by activists of the League who this time brought white-and-red flags as well as white-and-blue ones.2 The judge who was conducting the case deemed these flags as offending the dignity of the court. An activist who was requested to remove the flag engaged himself in an altercation with the court. When asked to leave the room he resisted and refused to give his name to the police. The supporters of Dorota Nieznalska attended the trials encouraged by the appeals of Aneta Szyłak,yet as they were not distinguished by any symbols they remained invisible. The war of symbols intensified during the appeal. On January 18, 2005 Nasz Dziennik daily 3 published an announcement: We call upon all those faithful to the church and fatherland to participate in the court trial in the deffense of the cross desecrated by Dorota Nieznalska. The artist's opponents attended the trials with rosaries, crosses and other object of cult. They waved these object while uttering hateful and offensive comments about the artist. They did what Dorota Nieznalska was accused of: the object of cult were desecrated, the object which should help in prayers, remind us of the Passion of Christ and Salvation. They are to console and remind us about the need to live in love and forgiveness.

This use of religious symbols in a spectacle of harted did not only happen in Poland in connection with Nieznalska's trial. One can refer to a symbolical encounter of ecologist with the inhabitants of the Rospuda region on February 25, 2007. During this encounter the former were standing in complete silence holding candles whereas the latter, armed with crosses, were shouting into their faces that they were not human, that they did not care for the victims of car accidents; curses and vulgarities were not spared. Some people living in the neighborhood apologized for their neighbors. As believers they felt offended by the use of a religious symbol in an aggressive row, which in their opinion was a sacrilege.4 There are more examples when religious symbols were used in social and political arguments. Hatred and anti-Semitism are demonstrated by such representatives of the Catolic Church as Tadeusz Rydzyk 5 and Henryk Jankowski.6 The latter also delights in showing off his wealth and embellishing churches with valuabe objects, such as the amber alter he ordered for the Church of St. Brygida in Gdańsk. Złota Królowa, whose thorns are made of amber points to this avocation for splendor.

This is this strange kingdom Dorota Nieznalska describes in her works. This Kingdom has not been conceived by the artist; it exist in the imagination of some Poles. On December 20, 2006, forty-six deputies from the Law and Justice party (PIS), the League of Polish Families (LPR) and the Polish Peasant Party (PSL), headed by Artur Górski, motioned that the Polish Parliament passes a resolution giving Christ the title of the king of Poland. This is a kingdom of vainglory and hatred, and empty religious symbols used in complete denial of the Church 's teaching (therefore the crown of thorns appears in Nieznalska's works on its own, it is a precious fetish, separated from its usual associations; thus it becomes an empty symbol wih can me manipulated at will).The kingdom does not respect any views that contradict its own ideas, all criticism is interpreted as obscene (in this context erotic drawings displayed at Nieznalska's exhibition are meaningful). The kingdom looks for a scapegoat, it needs a witch to burn her at the stake. Dorota Nieznalska's exhibition can be interpreted as an attempt to come to terms with her own trauma of the trial and the symbolic violence she was subjected to in its course.Leather handcuffs, chains, corals which look like red-painted fingernails can also be associated with sadomasochist games. This is more about a sadomasochist spectacle of the artist's trial when she was constantly humiliated and treated as a hated witch.

The chains and handcuffs which accompany the crowns of thorns can also be interpreted as referring to Polish art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries when handcuffs were a symbol of Poland. Polish Messianism identified our enslaved country with the suffering of Christ.The artist alluded to the attempts at regaining independence. Dorota Nieznalska shows that today we are facing a new kind of enslavement of minds. The absence of independent thinking, lack of common sense, lack of tolerance for otherness is what is most enslaving. In this instance art is seeking the realm of freedom, an attempt to break the handcuffs or at least to chase away evil ghosts. May the Kingdom become the past enclosed in the museum showcases...



1.A Polish nationalist group with a Catolic- Nationalist philosophy, formerly affiliated with the League of Polish Families. The organization was originally founded in 1922 as an ideological organization of academic youth with a strong nationalist sentiment (translator's note).

2.White and blue are symbolic colors of the Virgin Mary and a religious symbol (translator's note).

3.A Catolic- Nationalist newspaper of national circulation (translator's note).

4.Cf.:http://pracownia.org.pl/dzikie-zycie-numery-archiwalne,

5.A controversial ciergyman, highly influential among the elderly and rurar audience, manager of a TV station, a daily newspaper, and a media traning college who is anti-German, anti-Russian and anti-EU (translator's note)

6.The first chaplain of the Solidarity movement, close to Lech Walesa; later highly controversial for his support as a priest for political anti-German and anti-Semitic demonstrations, and dubious buisness ventures (translaror's note).