Lesbian* art in Poland. We persist and keep on digging

Stencil on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, result of Sistrum workshops, photo: Joanna Kessler

Agnieszka Małgowska: I am glad that we were able to produce this issue of RTV Magazine dedicated to Polish lesbian* art, thanks to the Arsenal Municipal Gallery. Already, we know we must explain ourselves. [Laughter] There is so much to show and talk about, and the issue has limited capacity. We’ve had to make difficult choices.

Maja Korzeniewska: It is particularly important to us that the lesbian* issue appears right now. We are seeing a growing nationalism and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community, fuelled by new events and political acts. It is already difficult to breathe in Poland – and hard to predict what will happen in the near future – although I don’t expect it will be calm any time soon.

Monika Rak: What is happening doesn’t just change Poland, it also alters the LGBTQ+ community and its strategies. A generational change is underway: before our eyes, the non-binary sexual paradigm is replacing the existing binary. It has been sudden. Until recently, it seemed it would take many years. We are now faced with a multidimensional upheaval, and the many fears that accompany it.

Graffiti on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, photo: Joanna Kessler 2020

A.M.: That’s right – it’s multidimensional. The ways in which it is performed have also changed, and both the political situation in Poland and the Black Protest have changed. The LGBTQ+ community has finally recognised its subversive strength and its potential to disturb the so-called “normal” majority. A few years ago, Rafalala and Anka Zet “broke” into the mainstream reality, but this didn’t reach that many people. They were also often unwelcome among LGBTQ+ people – they were seen as “ridiculing” the community. Nowadays, gender-queer performance is par for the course. It has also become a recognised form of struggle for democracy and human rights. Margot and her actions have taken over public consciousness.

M.R.: Margot, Rafalala, and Anka Zet’s performativity is one of the ways of marking your place in society as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a modern strategy: acting like a poster, or a meme. Swift and loud media actions, even when short-lived, are important because they broadcast the issues at hand, and are memorable. These are often rebellious acts, and I am glad that this rebel thread has emerged, because so far it has been marginal. However, every change makes me question the place of lesbians in this situation. I get the impression that, as always with lesbians*, there is a problem – even with a lesbian with an asterisk, that takes into account various female experiences and gender and psychosexual non-normativity.

A.M.: That’s my fear exactly. We are in danger of yet another disappearing…   Lesbians* have barely raised their heads, and yet again, it’s another step back. I no longer want to deal with mutating forms of lesbian* “disappearance”. I don’t want to look at changes that marginalise non-heteronormative women. The presence of lesbians* is still unstable. Lesbian* understood as a binary identification is already passé, but girls who fearlessly and unequivocally call themselves lesbians with or without an asterisk will not disappear. There are still some projects where lesbians* dominate. Therefore, looking with curiosity at the changes, and appreciating every form of struggle for equality, we put an emphasis on positivist work. In the space of culture, we understand that as archiving, animating and disseminating knowledge about les*creativity.

Stencil on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, result of Sistrum workshops, photo: Joanna Kessler

M.K.: That’s why we chose this title “We persist and keep on digging”, which is inspired by Monica Rak’s text “Kobiety które stały samotnie patrząc oprawcom w oczy” [Women who stood alone and looked their oppressors in the eye], in which she expressed admiration for women who have the courage to face a force greater than themselves – just by persevering. Perseverance is our herstory and our les*story. Because we persevere, despite systemic violence, women – also non-heterosexual women – are eventually able to smash the glass ceiling, gain the power to be autonomous, and even become symbols. These women who paved the way for us to assert ourselves – who led us to where we are now – had to be included in this issue of RTV Magazine. We want to honour our predecessors, which is why the text about Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, and Maria Konopnicka came into being.

A.M.: It’s great that we affirm lesbian* icons, but today we can see them anew and interpret them in our own way. We can criticize Stein for over-adoring masculinity, and appreciate her partner Alice. B.Toklas, precisely for standing by the egotistical Stein.

M.R.: Some non-heteronormative women – activists and artists – use this strategy of perseverance and we see that they are the ones who constantly do all grassroots work. Stubbornly, they keep going, dig the burrows and silently resist discrimination.

Graffiti on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, photo: Joanna Kessler 2020

A.M.: However, for years, these were unconscious activities, usually for the public good, not for themselves. It did not protect against intra-environmental misogyny and lesbophobia. When perseverance is conscious, its meaning changes, it becomes a strategy that not only allows us to survive difficult times – like those behind us and those before us – but it also allows us to become stronger, to take root, to see that this hitherto invisible work is a legacy that we should boast about – something that was considered a creative “nothing”, is in fact “something”. Persevering in the background, despite the hopelessness, allowed us to be able to present, today, a part of lesbian* creativity that is not universal knowledge, even in the LGBTQ+ community.

M.R.: We present a small part of this legacy, because we had to make a difficult choice, making sure to feature as many fields of art as possible. Some of them – such as comics, poetry, song and drag performance – are popular, performed more often, liked, and that’s why they are included in this issue. They fill the map of Polish lesbian* culture.

A.M.: Theatre, painting or fantasy literature, on the other hand, are more niche when it comes to non-heteronormative women’s art. These artists need room for expression, in order to expand the creative les*map, and this issue provides space for this.

M.K.: The issue is dominated by artists and works that are less known to a wider audience. We do not publish analyses or personal statements of the authors of the popular TV series “Kontrola” [Control] directed by Natasha Parzymies or the film “Nina” with a screenplay by Marta Konarzewska and directed by Olga Chajdas. These works have good audience reach; one can see them on YouTube and Netflix. They were reviewed and discussed a lot, and they are undoubtedly milestones in the history of Polish lesbian* culture.

Stencil on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, effect of Sistrum workshops, photo: Joanna Kessler

M.R.: So, first and foremost, we give voice to artists who haven’t made it into the mainstream. This doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy certain popularity, either in the LGBTQ+ community or in the art world. They are examples of lesbian* work, which still functions somewhere in the margins. We give them a voice, because we also want them to talk about themselves. That’s what I assumed when I made the documentary “L.Poetki” [L.Poets]. Few people want to talk about les*art, and if they do, they often do it in a way that depreciates or deforms us, so it is best that we speak for ourselves. The authors and protagonists of this issue are non-heteronormative women, artists and co-creators of lesbian* culture. We are examining and describing ourselves. 

A.M.: For this reason, the section “Kanał sztuki”/“Art Channel” includes les*stories by Aleka Polis, Magdalena Coward, Beata Cymerman and members of Drag King Heroes. They write about their achievements and creative experiences differently, but directly and usually in a discriminatory context.

M.R.: Would lesbian* art exist without this context? It’s a rhetorical question.

M.K.: Our lesbian* memory, our sensibilities have allowed artworks and artistic gestures that would otherwise go unnoticed to survive – usually, les*events are created on the margins of culture and are often one-off events. In fact, lesbian* culture is often incidental in character. However, over the past decade, something is starting to change. Several artists have made les*stories the theme of their work. You, as the Female Creative Tandem, consistently create off-stage lesbian* performances. Liliana Piskorska – who has a significant position in the art world which is why we only mention her briefly – focuses on lesbian threads in her art.

M.R.: Liliana Piskorska belongs to a generation who gained psychosexual awareness already in times of freer flow of information about gender and sexual orientation. There are a few such artists included in the issue, but there are also women whose work developed at a time when it was more difficult to do so. Here, I mean Aleka Polis, Agnieszka Frankowska and us, Female Creative Tandem.

Graffiti on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, photo: Joanna Kessler 2020

A.M.: It was important for us that les*culture was represented by women of different ages, and we managed to select between thirty and fifty. It’s a pretty good cross-section. It shows the diversity of perspectives arising from age, which is one of the threads in the conversation about poetry “Woman-revolutionary-lesbian-poet”.

M.K.: The texts we propose are just the beginning. We are aware that the issue lacks many artists and initiatives, but we supplement this with links. We know that individual fields of art require separate, cross-sectional studies. We have two such texts in this issue: Magdalena Stonawska writes about lesbian * threads in Polish fantasy, and Claudia Lewandowska about songs with les*motifs. We hope that, soon, there will be more of these texts in the virtual les*archive, planned by Sistrum. For now, you can get to know lesbian* work – described from our feminine-non-heteronormative perspective – in Sistrum’s series of conversations: in “Lesbian Theatre in Poland” we present performative and theatrical les*activities, and in “Sistrum talks about L*Culture” we talk with les*artists.

M.R.: Our quest for all kinds of manifestations of les*creativity is complemented by interviews with les*women, who share their experience in the series “Lesbian Inspira”. In the project “What does a lesbian* have in a jar?” We are looking at non-heteronormative women who came to Warsaw from Polish towns and villages [People who come to Warsaw from other cities and provinces are called “słoiki” – eng. “jars”, as they are thought to travel with food made by their families back home].

A.M.: To sum up, we can say that the #12 issue of RTV Magazine is a lesbian* response to homophobic events in Poland, to the change of the gender paradigm in general, and to LGBTQ+ consciousness, to the strengthening of the marginalised perspectives. As lesbians* who value their own distinctness, we propose to extend the rainbow strategy that extends between anarchism and mercantilism, because today the rainbow is both revolutionary, and a commodity. There is still a lot of space between the “insulting” hanging of rainbow flags on national monuments, adding rainbow halos to the images of Virgin Mary, and the “engaged” fashion design in the collections of Sylvia Nawrot, LEVI’s, Versace or H&M.

M.R.: In between there is space for feminist slams, and pissed-off and sophisticated drag king performances, labrys banners, writing for the drawer, sensual images, unfinished projects, sketches, stroking cats, nurturing flowers on balconies… [Laughter] All this can become art.

A.M.: There is simply room for persevering and relentlessly “doing your own thing”. Contrary to reality, contrary to the dark clouds above the rainbow community, we repeat after Maria Konopnicka: contra spem spero / hope against hope.

Stencil on Brzeska Street in Warsaw, effect of Sistrum workshops, photo: Joanna Kessler


The Lesbian* issue is handed over during the great manifestations of the Women’s Strike across the country. Many of the demonstrations are also attended by non-heteronormative women. We do not know what will happen next, how long it will take until the real change takes place and what it will really mean.
This is another wave of demonstrations, after the ones held in the summer (2020), related to the LGBTQ+ community. It is clear that patriarchal structures are collapsing, that the struggle for women’s rights is also a struggle for the rights of non-heteronormative people, a struggle for freedom. We have a lot in common, including the same slogans shouted out at demonstrations and in defense of Margot [nonbinary activist arrested in Warsaw this summer], and during the Women’s Strike:


This raises hopes for a true STRATEGY. Let the power and rightful rage of women be with us! With Lesbian* Greetings! [LP!]

Stowarzyszenie Sistrum. Przestrzeń Kultury Lesbijskiej* // Sistrum Association. The Lesbian* Culture Space has been operating since 2017. It focuses on the widely-understood lesbian* culture in Poland. The asterisk means inclusivity for those who identify with the experience of non-heteronormative women – be it mental, physical, spiritual, or political. It is important that the word lesbian does not disappear from public debate, including in the LGBTQ+ or rainbow community. 

The aim of the Association is to create, animate, disseminate, and archive lesbian* culture in Poland in order to root lesbians* in culture and give them cultural references for constructing their identity. It is guided by the principle: We don’t judge, but observe, because the most important thing is the process. It constructs the space where sisterhood and female creativity are possible.

Sistrum work both online and offline. It focuses on cyclical actions that give lesbian* culture continuity, and allows audiences to delve deeper.


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