*“Uncensored. Polish Independent Art of the 1980s” is an exhibition that showcases a broad panorama of artistic phenomena through which artists manifested, in various forms, their opposition to and independence from People’s Poland’s communist regime as it sought, using an apparatus of oppression, police, and the armed forces, to kill the public’s aspirations of freedom. *
The situation in Polish culture in the 1980s was an extraordinary one. Many artists reacted very quickly to the introduction of martial law by the communist regime. They boycotted the government’s cultural policy, refusing to appear on stage, publish, or exhibit their works at official institutions and in official media. At the same time, they collaborated and co-dialogued with the public, organized in the independent structures of the Solidarity trade union, worker fraternities, undertaking strictly clandestine activities: designing and producing posters, leaflets, or pin-backs. No less importantly, they searched for such forms of sharing their work – which expressed the specific time as well as experiences and emotions familiar to individuals and to society at large – that would be independent from the policy of the communist authorities and their censorship.
The first attempts to present recent art were of a low-key character. Such presentations took place in private apartments, in lofts, or directly in artist’s studios. Those independent exhibitions were attended by the “initiated” few. One of the first forms of independent cultural presentation were “suitcase exhibitions,“ so called because, according to the original idea conceived by painter Marek Sapetto, the invited artists produced small-format paintings or miniature replicas of larger works, which were then brought in a suitcase to a private home where they would be put on a display outside the reach of the censors. Some artists, defending their creative autonomy, stuck to ephemeral forms of art and its presentation throughout the 1980s. Most, however, in a sense of solidarity with the public, sought exhibition venues open to all. The independent exhibition movement soon found such a place in the Church, which opened its doors to artists without asking them about their creed or the form of the presented works. Within church walls, artistic events could be organized on a large scale and attended by the mass audience. They were a real alternative to the official exhibition venues. The art world’s coming together with the Church undoubtedly left a mark both on the work of individual artists and on the character of the independent culture movement as such; it resulted in a vast number of independent exhibitions, featuring some 1,700 artists, the rise of several dozen galleries in ecclesiastic spaces, the production of posters and exhibition-accompanying publications (catalogues and critical texts), and the organization of numerous conferences and seminars. The independent exhibition movement was a mass-scale and multi-generational artistic-cultural-political phenomenon that combined political dissent and religious-social reference with a creative quest for visual form. Looking in hindsight at the reality of 1980s independent culture, it needs to be stressed that it was a diverse and multifaceted phenomenon, encompassing all artistic disciplines and, on this scale, historically unprecedented. Outside the control of the censors, countless works of art, literature, theatre, and music were produced, whose authors manifested their autonomy with a sense that only independent culture is able to express the fundamental human experience that is the desire of freedom.