Alina Szapocznikow

1926Kalisz, Poland | 1973Passy, France
Alina Szapocznikow — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

© Piotr Stanisławski, The Estate of Alina Szapocznikow, All rights reserved, © ADAGP, Paris

— Estate Alina Szapocznikow

Polish sculptress.

Among the most important Polish artists of her generation, Alina Szapocznikow epitomized a new kind of sculpture, both a successor to the surrealists and representative of the pop movement’s innovations. After several months in the Polish ghettos of Pabianice and Łódź, where she got by working as a nurse, she survived the concentration camps, only to then suffer from many diseases. The work she produced was thus always marked by acute physical pain. After Liberation, she studied at the Academy of Applied Arts in Prague, then at the Beaux-Arts in Paris (1948-1950). She returned to Poland in 1951 to receive treatment for tuberculosis, and was assigned a number of public commissions – monuments to Chopin (with Oskar Hansen), to Polish-Russian friendship, to Warsaw heroes, to Auschwitz victims. She was actively involved in contemporary art life, alongside her husband Ryszard Stanisławski, an art critic and director of the famous Museum of Modern Art in Łódź. She was chosen to represent the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1962, and moved to France indefinitely the following year, getting closer to the new realism group (Arman, César, Niki de Saint Phalle). She would then share her life with famous graphic designer Roman Cieślewicz.

Using new materials, she tackled a kind of intimate vivisection of the body by fragmenting it and multiplying its parts: Ventres-coussins [Bellies-Pillows, 1968] ; Tumeurs [Tumours, 1968] ; Fétiches [Fetishes, 1970] ; Portrait multiple [Multiplied Portrait, 1965]. These works, which correspond to moulded body parts – mainly her own – are then cast in vinyl, polyurethane, or bronze. Through this objectification of the body, literally in pieces, she illustrates our own finiteness, considering that our bodies are our main source of joy, suffering, and recognizing this ontological simplicity. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 1968, she pushed the expression of her personal drama even further with L’enterrement d’Alina [Alina’s Funeral, 1970], where various personal souvenirs are mixed in with the sculpture (photos, underwear, gauze). The final stage of her work was reached with Herbarium (1971-1973), which integrates debris from moulds of the body of her young son, whose reliefs are forever fixed in place. In the context of the dawning of feminist thought and alongside other artists such as Louise Bourgeois or Eva Hesse, Alina Szapocznikow has significantly contributed to paving the way for body art practitioners.

Scarlett Reliquet

Translated from French by Toby Cayouette.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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