Poland’s feminist punks SIKSA are taking no prisoners

12 February 2019
Interview: Agata Pyzik
Image: SIKSA

Siksa is a Polish slang word for a naive and sexually attractive young woman. It is also the band name adopted by two artists — spoken word poet and punk singer Alex Freixeit and bassist Buri — who have become adept at making certain sections of Polish society uncomfortable. Following a provocative performance at the OFF Festival in Katowice, where the band sported satirical outfits by young designer Tomasz Armada and spoke with trademark honesty about misogyny, they landed on the cover of popular women’s weekly Wysokie Obcasy. From there, their profile has only risen. SIKSA offer a powerful, radical leftist, and feminist voice that has shaken the Polish underground scene with its raw message of vulnerability and fierce defiance. They save their most pointed criticism for the patriarchy, standing against the omnipresent violence against women that remains acceptable in Poland in even the most “cultured” of environments. The Calvert Journal spoke to the duo about the transformative power of art and activism.

Image: Jakub Szafrański

How did you arrive at this form of self-expression?

Alex: Everything began when I met and fell in love with Buri. This love gave me so much power — I realised I had to become a totally different person in order to survive. I always wanted to perform, but every time I tried to express myself artistically, someone close to me brought me down, suggesting that what I did was kitschy and exaggerated, that I’d attract only shame and mockery. Buri helped me overcome my repressed feelings, the shame and anxieties that which I’d previously been too scared to talk about.

It turns out it’s goddamn difficult! To state publicly that I condemn violence, for instance, is scary, because there always will be someone who will try to shut you up. This has already happened to me many times. Most hurtful were the attempts to break me from people I cared about. They tried to tell me that I was possessed by a demon, that I was airing my dirty laundry in public and that everything which happened to me was my fault. I don’t want people like that to shape young Polish people’s minds. I always appeal to my fans to oppose internet hate speech. But SIKSA isn’t just about my traumatic experiences. It is also about the happiness of creation, of helping other people and yourself. It is a highly emotional parade of fashion and beauty.

Tell us a bit about your background — how has it influenced your work?

Alex: Buri is from Toruń; I am from Gniezno. [They’re] not big Polish towns. This place made me who I am: my friends come from there and we are active there. Apart from working on music, we’re co-organising the town’s first Pride march, and in the summer, we will have an open-air culture space. We are not planning to move anywhere more glamorous. Some people just like smaller towns. I feel like I’m still growing here, finding my way through to become the woman that I want to be.

What shaped you, culturally and musically? Was there a Polish riot grrl or punk scene that you took inspiration from?

Buri: We have no insight into our roots. We don’t look at culture as a sequence of events which made us who we are. But we do care about being honest in what we do, and creating according to our conscience and intuition. SIKSA set us free. History will hopefully absolve us and put us into context. There was sadly not enough of a riot grrl movement in Poland, and Polish punk had too few moments of glory. But they made us conscious and responsible onstage, gave us friendships and sense of belonging.

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Your rise in popularity has coincided with a peak in popular feminism in Poland. How did that affect you?

Alex: The answer is simple. After the magazine cover and OFF Festival exposed us to the mainstream, our next material, REVENGE AGAINST THE ENEMY, was about rape. The material required SIKSA to become a superhero of sorts, like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill. After a year of performing this material and lots of work offers, we were just dead with exhaustion, physically and mentally. I felt terrible remorse, that speaking out about my rape hadn’t empowered girls — that it was still me on that stage with all the power. It still hounds me. That’s why we came out with our next material, Taming of the Shrew. We decided to knowingly undermine ourselves, to tear down that pedestal. And we do it to open up a new space. In a way, this is paying homage to who I was when I was 16. But now I’m older and wrinkled with experience.

I realised people were trying to make me into a celebrity feminist. We fought hard not to be turned into a commodity. We rejected countless offers, some of them really bizarre. People still told us we had sold out. Whatever. Everything we do is DIY. We are still dressed by Tomasz Armada, so people tend to think: “oh, it’s the fashion world, they must have shitloads of money.” Nope!

You speak openly about traumatic events in your songs, which people clearly connect with. Is it hard when people come up to you after shows and tell you about the most difficult parts of their lives? How do you find the right language to speak about these things?

Alex: This is something I’d rather not comment on, because I feel I’m still lacking the proper tools. I don’t blame anyone, I’m just still learning where the stage ends and normal life — with all its personal, woman-to-woman stuff — begins. I do workshops where girls speak out, and that has proven to be super hard for me. It’s an enormous responsibility.

I encounter people who try to censor us all the time, and I’m talking about people from the art world and leftists, who are meant to be our main audience. SIKSA never wanted to be politically correct. I fight sexism but I often use offensive vocabulary. I believe that everyone is allowed to pursue their internal freedom whichever way they want. This is my way.

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