You are currently viewing Marta Frej / The vulva or shame / The Witches’ Tower in Słupsk

Marta Frej / The vulva or shame / The Witches’ Tower in Słupsk

Opening
12.10.2023 / 5 p.m. / free admission
Witches’ Tower in Słupsk / al. F. Nullo 8

Exhibition
12.10 – 27.12.2023
*ticketed entry to the gallery

Artists invited to co-create the exhibition:

Antonina Dobrowolska (she/her) – born in 2001, creator of dramatic, poetic and prose texts. Radical feminist. He studies theater knowledge at the Theater Academy in Warsaw.

Maciej Raczyński (he, him) – born in 2001. He defended his diploma at the Faculty of New Media Art with the work  “Portraits of Masculinity” (painting works) and “The issue of masculinity in Western visual arts” (theoretical work). Feminist.

Photo / Krzysztof Tomasik

Diana Lenart
kuratorka wystawy

Women do not own their bodies, they rather rent them, conforming to social norms. Trying to meet these standards, we impose on our bodies the rigor of holiness or promiscuity, becoming hostages of the world of surplice and saber. Despite the dominance of corporeality in the Western world, we have not gotten rid of the taboo of the female body and its needs. Deep-seated shame stretches across our civilization like a tail. A tail that we will only be able to shed thanks to a sincere revolution in morals. However, this one is not coming.

Marta Frej has been exploring and contesting taboo topics since the beginning of her artistic activity. We treat her work as our voice – a belief that many Polish women wear like a tattoo. In our homeland, where we are not worthy of human rights, we seek strength in unity, but shame prevents many of us from expressing our needs and joining the opposition. Women’s social roles in Poland are like commandments carved on stone tablets, reminding us of the shame we still have to feel. We are ashamed to deny it, we are also ashamed of our own shame. The bodily taboo, the embarrassment of one’s own body and physicality, is the beginning of something whose consequences we painfully feel in our social, professional and family lives. Because our identity has its origins in corporeality and its negation, and what constitutes resistance to the subordination and objectification of the female body is born from loss.

Marta Frej’s exhibition was divided into three parts representing conventional time periods – prehistory and the beginnings of civilization, a woman’s childhood and youth, and the present, which brings new ideas – understanding and hope. The first one is about freedom and freedom that we either have in our imagination or pay a high price for. The original independence resounds here, heralding the original sin that religion has made us believe, making us feel guilty not only for ourselves, but also for the “sins” of the entire human race.

With the decline of “primitive” freedom came the era of fear. It is also an allegory of the times before conscious childhood, which is freely taken for granted and the lack of consequences is a permanent state. Marta created a ceramic bestiary for these needs: ” vagina dentata ” – representing the mythical fear of women, frivolous, liberated vaginas, winking at us with the eye of a proto-vagina.

The upper floor has been arranged as a girls’ room, where, in addition to paintings and illustrations, there will be disturbing premiere installations. The culmination of the exhibition, in accordance with the artist’s wishes, is the presentation of a new generation of artists associated with feminist art – Maciej Raczyński (in private, Marta’s son) and Antonina Dobrowolska. Maciej will present the work “Portraits of Masculinity”, which consists of 4 painted images of men and recordings of conversations with their heroes. Antonina Dobrowolska will present the text of her own feminist drama “Baby”, in which one can find an analogy to the poet’s work, which has been modernized. You can hear the terrifying news that reaches us from the delivery rooms of Polish hospitals.

We invite you to a multi-threaded exhibition that deals with a difficult topic, but one that is closest to everyone, because it concerns our body and the courage to defend its autonomy. To quote Marta, “The fight for women’s rights is a fight for human rights.”

Maciej Raczyński
INTERVIEW
WITH MARTA FREJ (FRAGMENTS OF STATEMENT)

vulva

  1. “external genital organs of women and female mammals”
  2. daw. “shame, disgrace, disgrace”

PWN dictionary

Marta

I was most ashamed of the fact that I masturbated with great joy and pleasure. It was the most intense shame because I was an example of a child who, as soon as he could walk, discovered the joy of masturbation. I was getting to know my body without knowing there was anything wrong with it. It was a very important and intense experience for me. I wasn’t hiding, so I was caught very quickly and they started to talk me out of it, embarrassing me. My parents said what I was doing was ugly and they made sure I didn’t do it. On the one hand, I felt joy, the pleasure of discovering my body and making friends with it, but on the other hand, I was made to feel that it was wrong.

It usually happens that once they instill shame in your head, it will always accompany you until you decide to deal with it – for example, with therapy. I had a lot of childhood shame because our culture is very productive when it comes to the sources of shame. Shaming girls and boys has a wonderful, long tradition in Poland. Female teachers are especially good at this. Disciplining girls in my primary school was done by instilling a sense of shame. In the case of boys it was a raised voice, in the case of girls it was the phrase: “How can you! You should be ashamed of yourself.” I remember the taste of this shame very well from my childhood.

"Shame on you!"

My intuition and experience tell me that this order is more often addressed to girls than to boys. The woman is more identified with this shame. It’s the girl who has to watch herself, because she’s provocative. This is due to the fact that a man does not have to control himself because he cannot. His drives, his vitality, but also, subliminally, his fertility, are so important and intense that we do not try to tame them. Girls must watch out for themselves because they are under “care” resulting from the fact that as a society we realize that women bear responsibility, guilt and consequences. After all, we cannot agree to the creation of “other people’s” children. A common fear of a man in the family is that the children are not genetically his, which is not so rare. Our national fear, however, is that the children who will be born will be the offspring of a “stranger” – culturally, racially, religiously.

Vulva 

I also used to find the vulva ugly. The question is, what came first? Is the word ugly first or is the organ ugly to us because we are culturally conditioned that way. The word vulva has never stuck out to me, and I even disliked it very much. I have yet to meet a woman who likes the word. However, after the last few months of working on the exhibition, I’ve ticked off “vulva” because I don’t like having words in my dictionary that I associate badly. That’s my problem, that something has a bad connotation. A word is just a word. I don’t know why I should give in to the social decree that “vulva” sounds bad. After all, it is a word that still functions in our language. It defines one of the most important parts of my body, so all I can do is to tame it. And by taming the word, I also tame its meaning. And at the same time my own shame. I have never been friendly with my vulva, my shame, rather I have repressed it. Not talking about things that are so important, denying their existence, is a mistake. That’s why I’ve done the work and why I use the word “vulva” deliberately, to tame it more and more for myself and other women. Mostly people I ask about the word “vulva” (or srom in Polish) point to a combination of the meanings “pussy” and “shame”. We have a pussy, so we must be ashamed. It is the same thing. There is a gesture that has been operating in many cultures for thousands of years, it is called “anasuromai” and involves a group of women exposing their vulvas by lifting their skirts to ward off enemies or to put a spell on the sea to make it favourable to fishermen. It is historically documented that “anasuromai” works. So if this gesture can carry consequences, it means that by the power of shame, much can be accomplished – enemies are shamed, so they flee. Let’s swap vectors. Then pussy has great power, the power to shame, but it does not bring shame to the person who possesses it. Then the word can be dealt with.

Church

Religion achieves the goal of power over people in the simplest ways. This is based on fear, and this fear can be triggered by shame, threats and, in part, empty promises. Women are promised much less. I have always believed that religion will take more from me than it will give, even though the Catholic Church is the largest in terms of the number of followers. It is also true that there is a lot going on around the topic of shame, and women are very sensitive about it, so maybe that is why they give in so often? My parents declared themselves believers, but they did not practice or use religious arguments in raising me.

Don’t look in the mirror, you’ll see the devil

In this respect, both of my grandmothers were no different from many others. In their opinion, a woman should be modest and should not devote too much time to her appearance. On the other hand, it is a paradox, because appearance has been constantly assessed. These contradictory messages are also a way to confuse and raise girls to be less aware and active people.

The second pole of purity

The myth of the hymen is very deeply rooted in society. Also the biological fiction of this construct. We behave as if there is no science, no progress. We take a myth from the Middle Ages directly and it becomes our reality forever. No one effectively refutes this ad cathedra. This proves the need for such myths, because they maintain people’s belief in miracles, superstition, and, consequently, the role of the church in spreading these superstitions. I don’t know why women need the virginity myth, but I know why men need it. This is a subliminal message that a virgin, i.e. a person who has not done something, is a reward for a mentor, a guide, i.e. someone who knows what he is doing. As if defloration was such a difficult and sophisticated activity.

The second thing is that this myth is exploited by corporations that want us to be ashamed of our appearance. There is a lot of money behind it and many people make money from it. As a society, we are increasingly moving towards denying our mortality. As humanity, we make a lot of effort to deny the passage of time. We put incomparably less effort into trying to come to terms with it. There are trends and ideas that are intended to help us come to terms with the passage of time and the essence of being human, i.e. mortality. So far, they have not been able to overcome attempts to deny the truth.

The patriarchal society needs us as reproductives, as handmaids, as mothers. Our capacity for motherhood is paramount. When we are no longer capable of being mothers, the only role we have in society is that of a grandmother, a caregiver. We rarely associate 60-year-old women with CEOs of large companies and successful women. There are few such social roles and role models for women. The industry uses this fact to help us impersonate a woman who is still socially useful. We are young, we are fertile – we are needed.

Witch, witch

A woman who pays more attention to her appearance than her mind is comfortable for patriarchy, unlike a conscious woman, because such a woman is dangerous for patriarchy. Because she is stronger. Moreover, the advantage of the female body over the male body has been scientifically proven. Women are more resistant, live longer, and suffer from diseases less frequently, including during pandemics, because they are capable of giving life. This is also terrifying knowledge, because if we were less entangled in patriarchal patterns, we could use our power better. It is not without reason that the exhibition will be held in the Witches’ Tower – a place that is directly connected with the history of uncomfortable women’s activities, often costing their lives.

Blood and economy

Something that is common, normal, is so enchanted by advertising that shows that period blood is not blood because it is blue, but I am starting to understand why. Data on period poverty shows that many people do not have access to basic hygiene products, while in Spain the possibility of period leave has become available. When we convert it into money and translate it into the language of economics, we may be able to understand why it is in society’s interest to remain silent on this issue. I agree that my taxes cover various human needs, even though these are not often my needs. Social solidarity requires it. This is something that needs to be addressed, because the same is true of unpaid work, which is most often performed by women. Those in power do not want to talk about it because it would change the economy. If we went on strike like Icelandic women, we could have a real impact on the economy.

Men

My son defended his thesis on feminism. I’m not proud just because Maciek chose this topic. He grew up in such a home, so it’s natural. My partner Tomek and I cover the issue of feminism in every possible way. We read a lot about this topic and educate ourselves. We both grew up in very patriarchal times, countries and families. We are constantly breaking out of established patterns. We are trying to get along in Poland, where feminism means not liking men because it is against toxic masculinity. It is difficult to live in such ideas and negotiate this feminism without substantive support. No one in Poland has written about the fact that patriarchy also harms men. This is a new theory. Apart from the translated book Bell Hooks, there is no discussion about it in our homeland. The three of us are interested in feminism that includes men and is open to all genders. We believe that nothing can be changed if only one group is interested. Inclusiveness is needed. Maciek’s diploma thesis is an attempt to capture the topic of masculinity. He talked to 4 men of different ages about how they perceive masculinity and how they deal with it. He also wrote a work on masculinity in art – both past and contemporary art. Bell Hooks’ book “Ready for a Change” made a huge impression on him and helped him write a work in which there is no single model of masculinity. My son’s generation already knows that men can show emotions and that stereotypes can serve us, but they need to be taken into consideration.

Taboo

Taboo is inextricably linked with shame. The only way to get to grips with the taboo is to exchange experiences and talk. Taboo is elusive because we can believe that there is no taboo in front of us, but at the same time we cannot generalize it. Ania (Anna Pamuła, writer, co-author of the Tabubabki project) and I asked what they called their private parts. There were a lot of definitions, almost 2,000 answers. Many women said that they did not like any of these terms because they were either vulgar or infantile, and the scientific ones were too cold. They asked why they couldn’t name their most intimate parts according to their emotions. After all, these are the most important things: a sense of happiness, creativity. They had no words for it. There are a lot of women who don’t want to have a pussy. I don’t assume it’s innate. I think it is hard, multi-generational work of society and culture. I came across the description of my works, which I persistently create, that there is pussy everywhere. This may seem obsessive, but it is paying back a debt to the pussy because it was absent from my conversations with women, from my self, from my works. She was never a narrator. Women often consider my works vulgar, meaning their pussy is vulgar to them, and vulgaris means common, everyday. One for everyone. I didn’t think it could be a taboo topic, but I tabooed it myself. Ania and I are constantly trying to break this taboo and notice how the project changes us, our sex life and our attitude towards the world. We had no idea that as two mature, adult women, we would discover how much is pushed under the carpet, how much silence there is on important issues. This is rooted very deeply. Only now am I carefully beginning to recognize the shame in myself that has always accompanied me, but was like an invisible filter, like the air I breathe. I’m finally starting to feel its inadequacy, I have a feeling what would happen if there was no shame. How different my life could be, how free I could be.

MARTA FREJ

Visual artist, president of the Kulturoholizm Foundation, activist, feminist. She graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts. Władysław Strzemiński in Łódź. She obtained her diploma in 2004. In the years 2005–2009, she was an assistant in the Painting and Drawing Studio of Marek Czajkowski at the Academy of Fine Arts in Łódź. Winner of the Glasses of Equality 2015 award, awarded by the Foundation. Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka. Co-author of the book “Memes and Graffy” with Agnieszka Graff. Winner of the Olśnienia Onet 2017 award in the art category. Author of the book “120 faces of Marta Frej” and the herstory comic “Dromaderki”, created as part of a scholarship from the Marshal of the Silesian Voivodeship in 2018. An illustrator who permanently cooperates with Gazeta Wyborcza and Polityka weekly. The most popular works are paintings with captions illustrating the contemporary life of women in Poland. The works, which took the form of paintings, were exhibited in various galleries throughout Poland.

Implemented with financial assistance from the Pomeranian Voivodeship

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