Lesbian postcards from the future: the artists sending back messages from Poland’s radical queer tomorrow

This is our Poland

21 July 2021

Scholar José Esteban Muñoz believed that true queerness only exists in the future. In Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity, he wrote: “Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality.” Artist duo Maria Kniaginin-Ciszewska and Martyna Kaletowska (who goes under the alias of Kozlow) agree. They’ve created a radical lesbian vision of the future, framed as a set of postcards from tomorrow’s queer Poland.

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“Together with my girlfriend, we act as characters whose scraps of everyday life serve as material for an alternative reality. Using photography, you can follow these characters as they go to the countryside, meet with their grandmother, or go on their honeymoon. Buried underneath the realm of the everyday, they slowly reveal what it’s like to be a lesbian couple in the most homophobic country in the European Union: Poland,” Kniaginin-Ciszewska explains.

The postcards are not snapshots of city landmarks, but more intimate expressions of love. A wedding shot shows the brides posing together in white veils: one nude, one in a black Adidas tracksuit. In another picture, they pose with the grotesque human-size figures of a swan and a dinosaur. In another, they serenely share a naked embrace, which echoes religious iconography. These images are sensual, raw, surprising, funny, intimate, and exist beyond the heteronormative imagination.

Kniaginin-Ciszewska, who currently studies photography, and Kozlow, who works with graphics, paintings, and photography, first spotted each other on Instagram. After exchanging a few messages, they decided to meet in person. Kozlow travelled 600 km from the Polish seaside to Warsaw, marking the start both of their romance and their creative collaboration.

“I love Polish mentality and beauty, that everything is so intense and saturated. Slavicness for me is a style, atmosphere, and impression”

Working with lesbian identity and queer visual culture was an obvious choice for the pair, partly thanks to an ideological calling, but also because they enjoyed working with the themes. “Lesbians still don’t have a complete cultural representation. We didn’t grow up with our icons, so we try to be role models for ourselves, and for our future daughters,” the artists say. “Both of us work between reality and fantasy. Partly that’s just embedded in who we are; we don’t like limitations. On the contrary, we drive ourselves to go beyond all taboos.”

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Working from a feminist and LGBTQ+ perspective, both artists are also interested in authentically Polish aesthetics and its place within the global culture.

“I love Polish mentality and beauty, that everything is so intense and saturated. Slavicness for me is a style, atmosphere, and impression. I’ve also always been fascinated by vulgar and aggressive girls who did what they wanted. They felt strong, they were free and did not respond to expectations that they would be sensitive and delicate. I grew up around intense female characters and that’s where a lot of my inspiration is coming from,” says Kozlow.

Kniaginin-Ciszewska agrees. “These days I like to go back to small elements from my childhood that shaped me, and reimagine them. Sometimes it is a specific food, texture, or a TV show I watched as a kid. When it comes to visual references it’s full on Poland. I love disgusting hotels with artificial gold, the Hale Mirowska food market – it’s all rooted in my motherland’s visual sensibility.”

The duo’s postcards brim with the yearning for that same aesthetic visibility, only on their terms. The project is both a middle finger to the establishment, and a loving embrace for their community. “In Poland’s LGBTQ+ community today, there is a great sense of awareness, acceptance, and empowerment,” the artists add. “People are tired of not speaking up, visually and verbally. I think that the great power of the Polish LGBTQ+ community is that we are unbreakable, that we know that we live in the most homophobic country in the EU, but it only encourage us even more to act, react, create.”

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Lesbian postcards from the future: the artists sending back messages from Poland’s radical queer tomorrow

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