How does it feel to be young and creative in today’s Poland?
The rise of ultra-conservative ideology in Poland has isolated the country from many of its European neighbours. At home, right-wing rhetoric has also created a sense of unease and anger for many of the country’s youth, who often feel at odds with older generations and their very different values.
But how are Poland’s Gen Z — digital natives who have grown up in a hyper-connected world — coping in this new, divided landscape? Do they still have space to grow in an increasingly oppressive atmosphere? And which problems at home and abroad are standing in the way of their success?
We asked Poland’s Gen Z creatives about their greatest challenges, hopes, and dreams for the future.
We still put too many restrictions on art in Poland. We try to fit things into boxes, not risking too much because of our fear of failure, and bringing each other down. Some people see nagging as our national hobby.
It’s difficult to move away from the safety bubble that a big city such as Warsaw provides. The amount of privilege it takes for a person to succeed in the arts is tremendous. The idea of creating something isn’t particularly appealing when you know you’ll have barely enough money to survive on. Our political situation and conservative society don’t make that any easier, because very often we have to censor ourselves. All the same, I’m impressed with the self-awareness that you’ll see in artistic circles here, and how willing most young artists are to be intersectional and inclusive. We are creating safe spaces and are open for discussion, which I think is key to long-lasting changes for the better. I believe that change is coming and it’s amazing to be a part of it. We have to be unapologetic [for what we believe in].
“I came back to Poland a year ago, after four years spent in London. Coming home has been both challenging and exciting. I returned at a very difficult moment, when everything was closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, our president’s hate campaign against LGBTQ+ people led to huge protests, forcing queer Polish youth to organise and radicalise. I have seen a real shift in young people’s mentalities over the past year or so. People are finally calling things [like homophobia] exactly what they are.
Last winter, we also had protests [against further government restrictions on abortion.] Some 70 per cent of Polish citizens supported those rallies, which is an insanely high proportion in a country that is still largely conservative and Catholic. To me, it also shows that some kind of deep change is taking place. We were on the streets every day, making new alliances, and coming up with new ideas for spontaneous art performances. It was a time when I felt my work was very alive, very close to the people [I was marching with]. I created a dress with a train that stretched for several metres, all in red to match the official colour of the protest. I wore this dress throughout the protests and accompanied the marching crowd with my dancing. People contributed to my performances by giving me objects, flares.
The main challenges facing artists in Poland today are the country’s lack of resources and funding, and its underdeveloped cultural infrastructure — made worse because so many funding bodies and institutions are dominated by conservative politics. I dream that in my country’s future, we will all find the strength and courage in ourselves to start the difficult work of healing. We can’t change our history, but the future still needs to be realised. My sense is that we need to look inwards, to start healing our own family traumas and working with our own bodies to become more compassionate — both to ourselves and to others. After that, we’ll slowly be able to do those same things on a broader level. We’ll be able to start looking at our situation collectively. But if we don’t start from our closest and most intimate environment, we won’t get anywhere.“
The Polish art world is relatively small and centralised, which is why I feel there isn’t much here in the way of exhibitions or opportunities. A large part of Polish society just isn’t interested in contemporary art, which I feel is the result of deficiencies in our education system. There is no state support program for artists, which leads to difficulties in finding a workshop or even getting insurance.
At the same time, I see more and more individuals developing an interest in art, and their heart-warming enthusiasm makes me optimistic for the future. Polish people are great, and it would be wonderful if one day a majority appreciated what is going on around them.. I believe that day is coming, but it needs systemic change in schools, as well as increased stability, and most importantly of all, time.
I’m inspired by the people I have the pleasure of working with here in Poland, as well as by the unconventional way of thinking, creativity, and hard work of the country’s youth. I think our biggest challenge is money: in Poland, there’s still this belief that young people should just be satisfied by just getting the chance to take part in a project, but without money it’s difficult to create on a larger or more professional scale. The connections that people have, as well as how they present themselves both online and off (where they go out to party and drink, which openings they attend) also have far too big an impact on creatives. In the future, I’d like to see a place where there are equal opportunities for all, where everybody can feel at peace and openly express themselves. For now, it seems to me that the only way to make that happen is communication and dialogue with people outside and away from our environment. It is so difficult to act alone, so we must strive for systemic change.
My illustrations and artworks are inspired by fashion, queer culture, and art history. I’m aware that as an artist I live in a kind of safe bubble, where I can be myself and feel totally accepted. Outside of that bubble, the world isn’t so brightly coloured. Queer individuals in Poland are often persecuted for the way they dress and act in public. We’re not fully understood by rest of society; we have to fight for our rights every single day.
But I’m proud that we also have an LGBTQ+ community that really takes care of each other. We have a lot of open, LGBTQ-friendly spaces and organisations, both online and offline. There are plenty of great artists in my generation who are not afraid to bring up topics like queer love — and they do it very well. LGBTQ+ groups are growing in strength, and there is much of which to be proud. I would love for Poland to be a place in which queer people have equal rights, and can peacefully coexist with the rest of society. As a queer person, it is my dream to be able to express myself in any way I please.
I feel like my biggest challenge is the mismatch between my funds and my creative ideas. As a young, underground artist, I don’t get paid much for my music. At the same time, even when I don’t have much money, I don’t want to give up on doing collaborations with artists I’ve always dreamt of working with, Finding the funding to fulfil those artistic visions has been challenging. But at the same time, just getting DMs from people saying how much they’ve enjoyed my music is such a rewarding moment. It brings me a lot of joy and I would never give up on an artistic project just to save some money. The biggest constraint I face as a creative individual is that the mass media in Poland does not support young artists. Especially radio stations: they may interview you, but they won’t play your music. It is very hard to get media attention if you’re not a TV celebrity.
In the future, I’d like Polish people to buy more CDs. We are slowly ceasing to honour musicians for their work. Streaming platforms may have halted illegal downloading, but they haven’t changed our financial situation. I would also love Poland to become more open to differences and new ideas. Minorities aren’t represented in the public sphere here — it’s a pity CEOs don’t understand how important it is to introduce others to a variety of sounds, colours, and images. The best thing we can do for now is be faithful to our artistry. Change will come when we realise that we are nothing without our own truth.